Album review: Common's 'The Dreamer, The Believer'
Common — bestselling author and actor — uses his latest CD to remind us that, oh, yeah, he’s also a rapper. And he’s not shy about laying claim to being the best there is. When he throws barbs at “soft” rappers, you cringe at the retrograde machismo even if it is a relief to hear a pop music figure with some bass in his voice.
“The Dreamer, The Believer” reunites him with producer No. I.D., who produced the rapper’s most acclaimed CDs, and together they make an album that sounds fantastic. Robust tracks revere and update the past, such as the retro-soul, Curtis Mayfield-inflected “Lovin’ I Lost” and tremulously beautiful “Gold.” Grooves paired with grimy beats underscore Common’s combativeness (the aptly titled “Raw”).
But lyrically, Common is still stuck in the tug of war between street cred and a more nuanced worldview. “Gold” contains a line that partially summarizes that struggle: “I am the voice of the meek and underprivileged / The smell of success, I want y’all to get a whiff of this ….”
From there, he continues to impress and regress. He dedicates a thoughtful love song to his daughter with “Windows” and offers an empathetic view of women with “Cloth” but turns to old-school gay-baiting as he emasculates other rappers on “Sweet.”
On much of “Dreamer,” Common’s lyrics play into notions of power and success that reflect a core struggle in American hip-hop today: How do you define and elevate yourself as you’re seduced by values of machismo and materialism? Unfortunately, as gifted as he is, Common’s answers are often all too common.
“The Dreamer, The Believer”
Two and 1/2 stars (Out of four)
— Ernest Hardy