Common – “The Dreamer/The Believer” Album Review (Track-By-Track) by Jay Fingers

By Jay Fingers

The Dreamer/The Believer marks the first time we’ve heard from Common in a while. That’s not to say he’s been in hiding; in fact, we’ve seen more of the native Chicagoan than ever before thanks to high profile acting roles in film and television. (Common can currently be seen on AMC’s Hell on Wheels.)

But Common has been relatively quiet on the music front. Perhaps that’s a result of the less than enthusiastic reception for his 2008 effort, Universal Mind Control. It largely divided critics and fans and some questioned whether Common still the ability to make the type of hip-hop he’s known and loved for.

Well, rest assured, he can still bring it. The Dreamer/The Believer is a stellar album. Produced entirely by his long-time friend and collaborator No ID, the album is a jazzy and soulful affair that celebrates success

1. “The Dreamer” featuring Maya Angelou: A-

Common celebrates his successes with this energetic ode to achieving one’s dreams. The lyrics are flashy—when’s the last time you heard a “conscious rapper” boast about Ferraris, parties in Miami, and exquisite thick bitches?—but supremely clever. Maya Angelou ends the song with a poem about the power and resilience of dreams. “Dare to let your dreams reach beyond you,” she says. A great way to kick start the album despite the recent disappointment expressed by Angelou for the song’s use of the N-word.

2. “Ghetto Dreams” featuring Nas: B+

Chi-Town’s finest links up with the QB Street’s Disciple for another paean to dreams. The song’s title sums it up perfectly. Riches, women, fame, these are the things young cats in the ghetto dream of attaining. Though the song isn’t the earth-shattering bomb we’d hoped for from these two lyrical titans, it does whet the appetite for their rumored collaboration album Nas.Com. The production is top-notch, with No ID utilizing scratches, high-pitched strings, and beautiful sounding horns to create the song’s sonic backdrop.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qiudw2Rg2v4]

3. “Blue Sky”: A-

Common explores both of the album’s themes (dreams and faith) on this inspirational, feel-good song. The MC recognizes and is thankful for his blessings, and he hopes that he can inspire others as well. Seems like a spiritual successor to Talib Kweli’s “Get By,” and that’s not a bad thing at all.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZkkFYfh8V0]

4. “Sweet”: A

“How can I say this?/Fuck it I’m the greatest/I am the A-list for all these great debaters.” And that’s how Common begins the nastiest, most vicious song on the album, which serves to remind both the listener and any potential competitors of his lyrical prowess. Hmmm, I wonder who some of those subtle verbal jabs are directed toward.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAo6s94X2sk]

5. “Gold”: B

Over a dope, old-school beat, Common rhymes about how he achieved his dreams by forging his own path and remaining true to himself. “Writing my own scripts like I’m Tennessee Williams,” he says. The message: you don’t have to sell your soul to get what you want out of life.

6. “Lovin’ I Lost”: B+

It sounds so soulful, don’t you agree? Over a reverberant Curtis Mayfield sample, Common reminisces on his past romances. “Never played a game/But I heard about them sisters,” he rhymes. I see what you did there, Com.

7. “Raw (How You Like It)”: A-

While the “la, la, la” hook can be a bit annoying, the old-school vibe of this funky track make it the perfect beat for Com to get his Max Julien on. He spits game so wicked, referencing fashion designers like Martin Margiela, Stella McCartney, and Tom Ford and kicking witty lines like, “‘Bout to get that invite to a night over Egypt/She said, ‘You rap?’/Yeah, mummy/I’m Tutankhamun kicking and spending this rap money.”

8. “Cloth”: B-

A unique concept: Common takes the phrase “cut from the same cloth” and applies it to a romantic relationship over the course of this track. Again, it’s a creative idea, but something about it doesn’t quite work.

9. “Celebrate”: A-

It’s exactly what you’d expect a song titled “Celebrate” to be about and sound like. Common takes you back to Chicago, where he and his friends are together, having a good time, and celebrating the splendor of their lives. Another feel-good jam.

10. “Windows”: B-

A smooth, mellow track in which Common uses another well-known phrase (“the eyes are the window to the soul”) as the song’s concept. It really takes on special meaning in the second verse, when the rapper speaks about his daughter and how he’s determined to guide her through life the best way he can.

11. “The Believer” (featuring John Legend): B

Take ‘em to church, Com! Another inspirational song, this one with much more of a gospel feel thanks to John Legend’s piano abilities and the ethereal choir singing in the background. Common knows he’s been blessed, and his faith is unwavering. Oh yes, he believes: “I know that God watches/From one King’s dream/He was able to Barack us.”

12. “Pop’s Belief”: B+

Closing out the album, Common’s father, Lonnie “Pops” Lynn, comes through with a nice spoken word piece extolling the virtues of faith. “Life becomes belief/Belief becomes live/Live the life you believe/The American dream/The Black American dream/The universal dream.”

Overall Grade: B+

Our Recommendation: BUY

Our Favorite Tracks: “The Dreamer,” “Blue Sky,” “Sweet,” “Celebration”

 The Dreamer/The Believer is a great piece of work, and certainly one of the year’s best hip-hop albums. Its lyrics are poetic and inspirational, and the beats, culled from samples of Kenny Loggins, Electric Light Orchestra, and Curtis Mayfield, are true-school hip-hop wonders. The album, as a whole, is a testament to following one’s dreams, holding steadfast to one’s faith, and believing that anything is possible.

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