First, some quick business: Today's post will be the final one of the year. What with the holiday season being upon us and all, I figured now would be the best time for me to rest a bit and get my bearings back. I plan on returning sometime after the new year, at which time the blog will be reverting back to its once-every-three-days schedule, as that will be all I will be able to squeeze in. So it'll be more important than ever for you two to make your thoughts known in the comments sections of the various posts and to order your random crap off of Amazon using the links placed within the reviews, in order to keep everything going smoothly.
That said, I figured it would be best to leave you two with a write-up for a project I'm sure a lot of you had been waiting impatiently for all year long: Common's ninth album The Dreamer / The Believer.
Shortly after critics shat all over his 2008 release Universal Mind Control (which was still nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album, which shows just how little the music industry cares about critics, and just how little the music industry listens to actual hip hop), Lonnie Lynn decided that his next album needed to take things back to the basics, and recruited his former collaborator, producer No I.D. (who was the primary helmer behind his first three albums, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, Resurrection, and One Day It'll All Make Sense), to back him on every track.
Recording for what ultimately became The Dreamer / The Believer began in 2009, when No I.D. was in the midst of his own career resurgence, thanks to fellow Chicago resident Kanye West's public insistence that Dion was both his mentor and his inspiration finally settling in with hip hop circles: he was able to parlay this into much more prolific production credits with the likes of 'Ye, Jay-Z, and the artists on 'Ye's G.O.O.D. Music imprint, all of whom had more publicity than anyone Jermaine Dupri, No I.D.'s former collaborator, worked alongside.
It took two years for The Dreamer / The Believer to hit store shelves due to Common's agent's insistence that he was a good actor who deserved to work (although some of those choices were less than impressive: he was miscast in that Steve Carrell/Tina Fey comedy Date Night, he appeared in the most recent Terminator movie for some reason, and I understand that his show Hell On Wheels isn't very good, although that may not be entirely his fault). During that time, Common also left 'Ye's G.O.O.D. Music imprint in favor of starting his own vanity label, Think Common Music Inc., although he left Kanye's merry band of weed carriers (and Mos Def) on good terms, and will still work with them in the future.
The Dreamer / The Believer first caught my attention because of the wall-to-wall production from No I.D.: you two already know how I feel about the lack of cohesiveness in our chosen genre because of there being nineteen producers on a rap album that only features twelve tracks. Lonnie isn't my favorite rapper or anything (don't tell him), but he has some undeniably classic records under his belt, and he's even got a powerful dis record ("The Bitch In Yoo"), one that actually caused some damage to its target, in his catalog. So I'm hoping that this project is, at the very least, entertaining.
1. THE DREAMER (FEAT. MAYA ANGELOU & JAMES FAUNTLEROY II)
This was actually a pretty good way to kick off the album, even with Lonnie's false start at the beginning of his second verse and the inclusion of spoken word poetry (groan) from Maya Angelou at the end. (Yeah, wasn't too thrilled about that.) But No I.D.'s instrumental is moving, and it's also fucking great, so everything clicks in the best possible way. Com's three stanzas introduce the project magnificently, although he gives off a Mos Def-esque vibe on here at times. It's fucking hysterical to me that Angelou figures so prominently into a track that also contains the line, "Trying to fuck the world, she'd only let me finger". Not bad.
2. GHETTO DREAMS (FEAT. NAS)
The Nas vocal sample at the very beginning (and throughout, I suppose) actually ties into the end of Maya Angelou's piece at the end of "The Dreamer", which was something you just didn't receive when "Ghetto Dreams" was released as the first single from this project. No I.D.'s instrumental bangs, but the lyrics are all fairly ridiculous, as there is nothing remotely inspiring about the song, even though the title leads you to believe otherwise: instead of fantasizing about getting the fuck out of the ghetto, Common and Nas dream about getting their fuck on with their respective versions of the perfect women. Common, in particular, gets weirdly specific with his checklist, as he wants his woman "butt-naked in the kitchen flippin' pancakes" and ready to pose for nude photos at the drop of a hat, but he also wants her to have...witnessed the death of her brother? What the fuck? You know, it's probably better for everyone involved if you gloss over all of the words and just nod your head to the instrumental, which deserved better.
3. BLUE SKY (FEAT. MAKEEBA RIDDICK)
Common threw the second single from The Dreamer / The Believer immediately after the first one. How mice of him. I never cared much for this song, though. It's technically proficient and all, and Lonnie sounds decent enough with his bars (which are a lot more inspiring than anything from the previous track), but I couldn't get past the looped-up sample from E.L.O.'s "Mr. Blue Sky", a song I love otherwise. The vocals from Makeeba Riddick also failed to move me. "Blue Sky" ends up sounding like a snack break (a nicely paced one, at least) in between two tracks with powerhouse instrumentals that forcefully steal your attention away from you. Sorry.
This song is the reason why I picked up The Dreamer / The Believer in the first place: Dion's masterpiece of an instrumental sounds like he swiped the best elements of Kanye West and The RZA, threw them in a blender, and then tossed that aside and decided to create his own original work. The beat is fucking epic, and Common rises to the challenge, delivering two verses filled with braggadocio (his opening bar, "How can I say this?...fuck it, I'm the greatest!" has become a personal mantra, much to the dismay of my wife) and many many ad-libs aimed at ripping an adversary (named Aubrey "Drake" Graham) several shiny new assholes. While I haven't heard Lonnie sound this pissed off since he fucked up Ice Cube's career path with "The Bitch In Yoo", it still seems that this beef is both random and ridiculous: does anybody actually give a fuck about who would win a battle between two guys names Lonnie and Aubrey? Not exactly pay-per-view material. It would be like watching two kittens fighting over a ball of yarn while on their hind legs: adorable (because they think they're people!) and inconsequential. Maybe Com is just showing loyalty to his friend and former boss Kanye West, I don't know. Anyway, this song is still really fucking sweet.
5. GOLD (FEAT. JAMES FAUNTLEROY II)
I liked this track okay, but I still walked away from it feeling empty. No I.D.'s instrumental made for an interesting contrast with itself, while Com's two verses were both entertaining (although his bars ultimately fizzle into random bullshit that will be mistaken for "deep", he actually makes a timely reference to Christmas, even comparing himself to Jesus Christ at one point, which I'm sure will go over well with the bible belt crowd). My issue was with the guest star on the hook, which attempts to lend "Gold" a dramatic effect that it never fully earns, as it takes itself much more seriously that everyone else involved did. His distorted vocals near the end sounded obnoxious as shit as a result. How is it possible to enjoy a song and not recommend it to anyone at the same time? I don't know, but here we are.
6. LOVIN' I LOST
And just like that, The Dreamer / The Believer leaps back onto the good foot. Dion lends his boy a Curtis Mayfield "I've Loved and I've Lost"-sampling beat that helps our host illustrate, over the course of two verses, how much he misses the "Lovin' I Lost". The music relies a bit to heavily on the vocal samples: at times, they threaten to dominate the track and insert additional credits into the liner notes. So far, this album is far from perfect, but when it connects, it sounds like what Common was aiming for with those two Kanye West-handled releases.
7. RAW (HOW YOU LIKE IT) (FEAT. MAKEEBA RIDDICK)
Not nearly as raw as I would have preferred. Had Dion left the drums and the melody alone, I could have seen what he was aiming for, but with the female vocals, the sirens, and the goddamn air horn, it's almost as though he was consciously trying to polish this baby up for mainstream consumption. Common sounds alright, though, delivering two verses (two appears to be the magic number) of random boasts, attempts at clever wordplay, and general shit-talking (he even threatens to bash someone "in the head with a motherfucking bottle". an attitude that wouldn't get him very far at the White House). This wasn't terrible, but I'm hoping for a remix that features drums so dusty you can see it fly out of your speakers. A man can dream.
8. CLOTH (FEAT. JAMES FAUNTLEROY II)
The singing on here straddles that fine line between cheesy and heartfelt, nearly tripping over its own shoelaces at times. However, that's a minor quibble for a track that I ultimately liked a lot. Common's love letter to an anonymous female who shares a lot in, um, common with him (cut from the same "Cloth", as it were) is both sweet and banging, thanks to No I.D.'s excellent musical backing. I can't say enough good things about this song, so instead I'm going to cut myself off and move on to the next tr
9. CELEBRATE (FEAT. JAMES FAUNTLEROY II)
Dion takes the drums that should have been used on "Raw (How You Like It)" and pairs it with a self-conscious melody that doesn't sound as celebratory as you would hope. This wouldn't have been my personal choice for a single, but that's just me. And most of you two, I'm sure. The chorus hilariously equates the need to celebrate with having "all [your] n----s around", which seems rather shortsighted for an album that feels the need to inspire the listener to both dream and believe. It is what it is.
10. WINDOWS (FEAT. JAMES FAUNTLEROY II)
I absolutely could not get into this fucking song. That's all I got.
11. THE BELIEVER (FEAT. JOHN LEGEND)
Common may no longer be a part of Kanye's G.O.O.D. Music imprint, but that doesn't mean that he can't pilfer from their ranks for assistance on his own shit, which is why crooner John Legend appears on this bookend. So it's too bad that he doesn't ask for much more from his guest than a generic R&B hook. Granted, unlike most rap songs in our current climate, the hook actually does tie into what Common is actually talking about on this track, and No I.D.'s beat isn't horrible. It's just that I don't have much faith in this song after having listened to it. I found it boring as shit. Oh well.
12. POPS BELIEF (FEAT. LONNIE "POPS" LYNN)
After taking the last album off (and saving face in the process), Common's father returns to provide a fitting-enough ending to The Dreamer / The Believer. And with that, we're done.
THE LAST WORD: Common's The Dreamer / The Believer has its brilliant moments, but they are far outweighed by Common's duality, his need to be both an entertainer and an educator, with neither side ever winning out. Cohesiveness isn't an issue, thanks to our host's insistence on only working alongside No I.D., but consistency is, and it isn't present at all on this project. For the most part, Common sounds the same as he always has behind the microphone: not horrible, but not terrific, either. Producer No I.D. is forced to shoulder the bulk of the project's mission, and when the beats work, they knock, but when they don't, they drag the fuck on, which is problematic. Those of you two expecting Resurrection Redux or One Day It'll All Make Sense Again I Swear will walk away with your head hanging low, as The Dreamer / The Believer sounds just as ridiculous as those fake album titles. However, there are a handful of amazing songs on here. You just have to wade through a ton of ordinariness to get to them. Damn.