Until now, Common has been a frustrating presence in hip-hop. A commanding MC with a greater conscience than most, the Chicago rapper has flirted with greatness but continually lets himself down with albums relying on filler and style over substance. More recently, it seemed he was favouring his burgeoning acting career over his rap one. But everything is forgiven on Nobody's Smiling, a stunner of a concept album about his home town's shocking violence and murder rates.
Common's 10th album has a unified vision and is all the better for it. When combined with the production nous of No ID, Common's given room to spit his best and most fired-up rhymes to date. "Cop's getting paid off, greedy company's got my people getting laid off," he raps on 7 Deadly Sins, a soul-drenched standout.
Elsewhere, The Neighbourhood is a summery scene-setter with dark undertones, Kingdom uses a gospel sample for six thrilling but occasionally bleak minutes, and Out on Bond tells the story of a prison inmate's first steps outside. But it's churlish to single out tracks when Nobody's Smiling deserves to be listened from beginning to end.
It's taken a while, but Common's finally released his masterpiece -- and that's made his upcoming presence at October festival Soulfest all the more exciting.
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Backpack rapper bags his masterpiece