Thursday, December 4, 2008

Common- Universal Mind Control

Rating: 5.5
Released: Dec. 9, 2008, Geffen.

What's a nice-guy rapper to do?

Chicago rapper Common ascended to rap stardom in the past decade breaking the mold. While his peers might have talked gunplay, Common led the soul pack of MCs, recording a retro-infused batch of songs that sounded like latter-day, street-preacher Nas without the rampant narcissism.

Common made his living by standing out from other hip hop stars, but his latest does little to set him apart, and with mixed results.

In a time when hip hop's leading star Kanye West is recording melodramatic break-up albums that sound like Fiona Apple, Common is indicating he just wants to party, and he's asked Converse-loving Pharrell and the Neptunes to come along for the ride.

He kicks off his latest LP, Universal Mind Control, with a title track that sounds like standard club fodder, sporting a glitchy techno beat that's crying for Usher to body up on somebody.

"This is that automatic/I stay fresh like I'm wrapped in plastic," Common raps, moments before he starts talking about "booties droppin'."

On the next track, he partners with Mr. West himself (who phones it in for a monotonous chorus) for "Punch Drunk Love," a weirdly unappealing song with one too many sex jokes.

"Check my dictionary, that ass is so defined," Common spits. "It's slippery when wet, I can read the signs."

This isn't your mother's Common.

The rapper's experiments fall flat when he tries to sound like a thug, save for the head-banging "Gladiator," where he raps over a trilling trumpet and pounding beat.

"Don't violate or you get violated/some of you model bitches are so overrated," he brags. Who put the chip on this guy's shoulder?

The warmer, fuzzier Common makes a guest appearance on "Changes." The end of the song, which features an excerpt from President-elect Barack Obama's victory speech, might explain why Common feels so much like getting down.

"We see change in the wind/ it's a new day and I gotta take it in/ see a black man run, we need him to win," he raps.

"Changes," along with the Cee-Lo winner "Make My Day," are refreshing listens on a largely innocuous album. Perhaps Common shouldn't have picked overexposed producers like Pharrell and the Neptunes as pilots.


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