Common’s 10th studio album Nobody’s Smiling, a Def Jam project released via ARTium Records, with full production and executive production from Chicago native and long-time friend No I.D. is finally here. Both responsive and necessary the album is a form of social critique via personal narrative as Common’s Nobody’s Smiling is a “call to action”. Chicago has afforded its black youth the arduous option of survival within the realms of a politically forsaken, reinforced concrete matrix of sorts where indeed no one is smiling.
Featuring an important blend of unified Chicago artists—Lil Herb, Drezzy and King Louie—Nobody’s Smiling is a critical listen for the authentic progressive hip-hop ear. The content being some of the most relevant and important of its kind to the genre itself and the greater hip hop community, this album could be the catalyst so many are calling it, allowing room for a necessary social shift and response to Chicago’s intense social climate. Black lives and the complexities of those existences in black spaces are shared throughout this artistic expression. With few samples, most notably a light-hearted Notorious B.I.G. sample on “Speak My Piece,” Nobody’s Smiling is filled with highs and lows that deserve a listen.
On tracks like the raw “No Fear” Common shares the importance of a Chicago hustler’s success, “his name Chris -Black is his hustle name/reactions to his chains is like a basketball game/watch him win and hope yo team do the same.”
He also highlights his own rise to the top of the rap game and continues with instructive lines highlighting some of his responsibilities as a father. “Living life with no fear/putting that truth in my babygirl’s ear/told her that dudes gon’ want some ass/and whatever you do, do it with class.”
He continues with the acceptance of Chicago’s drill scene, complimenting and even validating the subculture as it permeates the industry with some of Chicago’s hottest artists representing the technique, “-they fya! Drill–stop, drop, and roll/ I popped out the coal with hip hop that was gold.” The self-proclaimed returned “Messiah” wraps his verse up humbly, acknowledging a selflessness about himself in his acceptance of the realities of the industry. Irrespective of his own leverage he continues, “the sun never set on me/many reign but the game never weather me” and ends, “no fear, I say that with levity.”
“Blak Majik” features Jhene Aiko and an emphatic Common authoritatively speaking on the crux of blackness and the magic associated with the wonder of our race. True in delivery like the rest of the album, this track is anchored in the trajectory of his radical journey from relationships, to being from the city of “win(d)” where you “win or go home,” to being blessed to rhyme. Ending with a vehement Jhene Aiko echoing out, “I am the matter that cannot be seen/I am the conscious you have in your dream/do not be scared of my dark energy/I am not here, I exist in between/Yea that’s me I’m magical/I’m black I’m strapped with magic bro/I’m nothing you have had before/I’m everything but nothing more (black magic).”
For every authentic representation of the sadder reality of violence in Chicago on tracks there’s another to counter it where hope is illuminated and pride is unbridled.
It’s apparent that despite being a veteran in the game, the native still fully owns and understands his responsibility to both his community and craft with this masterful conception. The generationally CHI-blended blaxploitative hip-hop album may be his best since “Be”, so enjoy. With features from Big Sean, Elijah Blake, Snoh Aalegra, Drezzy, Lil Herb, Jhene Aiko, Cocaine 80s, Malik Yusef, King Louie and Vince Staples, the project is definitely worth a listen, purchase and share—and if it is the catalyst of a positive shift in Chicago and the greater hip hop community then it’s worth that too.
Stream Common’s “Nobody’s Smiling” here.
Buy the deluxe version of Common’s “Nobody’s Smiling” at iTunes!