OpinionHated

The Hated Opinionated One

Common Controls The Hip-Hopniverse With His Mind

Posted by Scotio on December 1, 2008

I know it’s been a while since I last released a review on something. Situations of life has caused me to not be able to do so. But, I’ll be delivering a review(and maybe try to squeeze in a few more) right now.

Common(born Lonnie Lynn), and emcee heralded in the hip-hop community, is geared up and ready to unleash his new(and 8th) album, titled Universal Mind Control. Now, most of you have probably heard the lead single to this song collective, but I’m sure you thought that it was merely a gimmick to gain attention. One that would leave you with a bunch of soulful Hip-Hop tracks behind it. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, folks. That’s not the case. The whole album moves in this new and(for Common) uncharted territory. It’s hard to call it flat out Commercial Rap, as the man with the pen is still very lyrical with his delivery. Yet, at the same time, all of you purists out there would have a tough time biting down on this being labeled Hip-Hop.

Now, before I go into my usual task and manner of review I’d like to touch on something I stated in the last sentence. Folks seem to have a very tough time dealing with anything new in terms of the Hip-Hop label. Just because it’s not a constant looping of old soul music that you’ve heard a thousand times and know exactly where the sample came from does not, I repeat, does NOT mean that the offering isn’t Hip-Hop. Now, I won’t say that the silliness of Lil Wayne, Yung Joc, Young Jeezy or even Kanye’s radical departure with his 3rd & 4th albums constitute as Hip-Hop either. They don’t, not in the least bit. But, what this album is, truly, can be called Hip-Hop. The musical artform that showcased and thrived on difference, experimentation and creativity. Much like how the Trip-Hop classification has grown plentfold since it’s original incarnation, so has Hip-Hop. There’s more than one face to this creature, and it’s time to embrace those other faces and not hold dearly to that only one. Don’t go tagging things that clearly lack intelligence, creativity and true lyricism as Hip-Hop, but don’t shy away from something new and air freshening in that stale room that you locked yourself inside of.

With that being stated, allow us to continue down our routine path, shall we. . . The intro of the album is a woman speaking to the listen in the French language. Saidly, I haven’t fully gotten knuckle deep with that language since High School. So, I’m not the one that you should come to for a translation(Note: If/When I do find out, I will post it here). Followed by that spoken piece, you’re treated to the single that you’re familiar with from the album, the title cut(“Universal Mind Control”). This song houses combinations of robotic future and tribal past. With the brilliant use of Star Trek inspired Synths & the sounds of live drumming(Pharrell is a drummer, you know?) The Neptunes showcase why they were the music industry’s top-billed producers at the beginning of the decade. With the work here, it’s a great closer to the dynamic opening that they had starting in 2000(though in the middle, they did flip-flop for a while). Common, though, has never appeared to be more in tune with a beat than he is here. Flowing in and out of the beat like a master weaver unveils something that Mr. Lynn has been hiding under his gatsby hat for some time. His cadence is perfectly timed. He speaks each word without giving the listener worry of garbled over words and sentences that most in his place would have done. It’s seriously a great track, and a good display for Common & The Neptunes to show that Hip-Hop isn’t a box.

Another surpriser is the track “Make My Day” featuring the crooning of Cee-Lo(member of Goodie Mob, one half of Gnarls Barkley). Honestly, when I first heard this, I was a bit confused. It was just something that you didn’t imagine Common on(I act like Electric Circus didn’t happen). The track is produced by Mr. DJ of OutKast fame. And, yes, the beat does sound like something that Big Boi and Andre 3000 should be featured on(Do I smell a feature remix collab?). Common does a sing-song flow on the track. Not in that annoying “hey I can sing” type of deal. More of a happening that occurs when you’re having fun and talking like you’re in some sort of Show Tune movie. I know that if you’re as silly as I am, part of you has to force yourself not to bust out with the Carlton Banks dance while listening to this song. It’s a fine testament of how he feels of his woman. Though most would argue that this would have been better served as it’s original summer song intention, you could argue against it if you’re really deeply emotionally connected to a female. Because, if you are, just being around her would make a wintery white day feel as warm as summer. No, it’s not sappy, it’s realistic. Grow up, people!

A track that I’m not all that into, and I kind of feel bad about it, is the one titled “Changes.” It’s just something about the song that just alludes and doesn’t fully connect. It’s too magical in a fantasy sense, the music. Not Sci-Fi like majority of the rest of the album, but it sounds like something that should be featured in a Jim Henson movie. It’s too distracting. Plus, with Common uttering lines like “I spoke like a child/I wrote like a child/I always smiled, let my mind float like a child” doesn’t help to take away that storybook feeling that the song emits. It’s just something about it. I can’t say it’s outright bad, it just leaves you lost without any directions to find a common ground between you and Common(pun intended). Another misstep is the track “Punch Drunk Love.” It feels TOO much like a Neptunes track. What I mean by that is that the song fills like something that either Pharrell or The Clipse should be on. Not someone like Common. Still, Common does give his best attempt to make the song his. And, any chances of that being accomplished is destroyed by Kanye on the chorus. His overly boastful ego just makes you dislike him and the song. When chorus comes on, you’re stuck spending too much time squinting at his attitude than you are getting deeper into the song.

There are other strange moments on this album. One of them happen to be “Gladiator.” Common raps over a distorted horn section with a marching band’s performance backing it up. Common comes out swinging as hard as he can. At times, he seems to end up hitting himself in his arm sailing that seems like he’s kind of flailing his arms to bring fear into his fictional opponent. It’s a nice song to get your adrenaline and courage pumped up, but not something that you would sit there and listen while in a chilled or party-happy mode. Pharrell featured on the hook complete contrasts the rest of the song. Surely, that was the plan. But, you can’t do it too drastically, or it ends up looking like a self-parody. And, in a very strong sense, that is how this song can be viewed. Star Trak’s new band Chester French makes an appearance on “What A World.” The lead singer, oddly, sounds like Pharrell. Don’t know if that’s intentional, or just coincidental. Either or, it does work for this song. Easily Neptune-ized through and through, the track brings a sense of funk that hasn’t really been felt by the duo since they produced that Austin Power’s third movie lead single by Beyonce(Work It Out is what the song is called, people). Common coasts on it suavely like the most mellow of Cat Daddies from the 70’s who entered into the early 80’s rap scene. “Announcement,” again, featuring Pharrell(his on almost as many tracks as Common is) seems like a updated and revamped version of something Bad Boy Records would have put out during their hayday. But, that could also be attributed to the pretty blatant Notorious B.I.G. lines and hommages used throughout the song(Hell, even Pharrell huskies up his voice for rapping a full verse). The only thing that throws it off from the whole Bad Boy vibe is Common using the word “Finna” during the chorus. Though, that isn’t a bad thing. It wouldn’t be right if he got stuck under that tab of duplication.

Now, I saved the best for last: The best song on this offering is the closing track “Everywhere” featuring the iconic trip-hop voice of Martina Topley-Bird(From Tricky’s Maxinquaye fame and even her solo material). Mr. DJ returns as the producer for this one. It’s just brilliant and dynamic. Mr. DJ’s work could easily contest that of newly megaproducer Danger Mouse. Martina clearly controls this song. It’s almost like it’s hers featuring Common, instead. Her voice is properly layered and still enchantingly airy. When Common comes on, he doesn’t disturb what was already laid out on the song. He fits into it accordingly, and, at times, seeming like Black Thought of The Roots on the track. I say that because of his use of flow, his ability to adapt to the track and not ruin it, and even his lyrical pattern. Not that he stole it from him, they are friends after all. But, it is a good tribute paid to his often overlooked friend. The song truly does sound like a missing track from her Blue God album released earlier this year. With Common’s 1 verse on the song, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t originally that. If it was, Kudos to Common for being wise enough to throw it on his album.

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One Response to “Common Controls The Hip-Hopniverse With His Mind”

  1. Friend John said

    great to see you are posting again!

    kept a constant pace musically and I have a new record finished that I’m pretty proud of…once I get the artwork I’ll send it your way to listen to, and I have a EP up on my site of outtakes that didn’t fit the flow but I enjoyed how they turned out…hope you enjoy =)

    http://meondancemachine.blogspot.com/2008/11/maybe-i-miss-you-ep.html

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