Staying true to his Southside Chicago roots was always a centerpiece to Commons message when he put Chicago on the map in the midst of the wildfire of East and West Coast hip-hop genius in the 90s. One of the ways Common aims to draw attention to Chicago on this album is by featuring some young Chicago talent as guests, including Lil Herb and Cocaine 80s on the heady opening track, Neighborhood, featuring a sample from Curtis Mayfields, The Other Side of Town,; Dreezy on the infectious Hustle Harder; and Malik Yusef on the title track, Nobodys Smiling. He reunited with childhood friend and longtime collaborator No I.D. for incomparable, measured production.
One of the albums standouts, Rewind That, features a sample from Eleanor Mills tune, Telegram, and lyrics full of pathos. The track is dedicated to Commons musical mentor and friend, J. Dilla and delves into the regret of lost friendship and untimely death. Tracks like Kingdom which features samples from the Detroit-based gospel choir Voices of Conquest and gospel and funk artist Trevor Dandy, whose underground track, Is There Any Love, had a limited release on the Chicago label, Numbero Uno, weighs in on the war in what Chicagoans now dub, Chiraq. The video, directed by Hype Williams, has some holes in the storyline, but overall is suspenseful eye-candy with a twist.
A concept album, with little room for skipping over tracks, Nobodys Smiling is a strong return to what made Common golden-age hip-hop royalty. Sometimes the guests like Lil Herb, Cocaine 80s and Kanye Wests protégé Big Sean eclipse Common in lyrical delivery. But storytelling has always been at the forefront of Commons appeal, and for Nobodys Smiling substantive storytelling, dope production combined with eclectic, obscure samples makes for a certified club, radio banger that will still satisfy hip-hop purists.
Best Tracks: Hustle Harder, Real, Blak Majik, Kingdom, Rewind That, No Fear
Check this video for Kingdom: