The title really says it all – nobody’s smiling.
Specifically since 2005 Common has, yes, explored what it is to grow up and live in Chicago as a black man, and his skill at doing this even garnered him a slightly controversial meeting with President Obama – but in 2005, on the cover of his record, he was grinning. Ear to ear he knew that he had everything he wanted, he was at the top of his game, and the city around him was really coming into it’s own. It’s the kind of smile you have when you’ve accomplished what you worked so hard for. Seriously, again, the guy met Obama.
Now it’s 2014, hip hop has developed into a dancier form of popular music than it was in 2005 and in Common’s world nobody’s smiling. His lyrics and concepts are just as dark and hard-hitting as they have ever been but there’s a sense of watching the successes of the last decade rot and fade away.
With gun crime again on the rise in Chicago after 10 years of relative safety on the Windy City streets, Common recognizes the gains that his city and his country has made, and the complacency that is letting these gains rot before the fruits of this labour are even picked.
This is a weird record. Although musically and stylistically it doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, it still makes the listener think and wonder what’s ahead, not only in Common’s career, but in our own cities.
You can watch Common explain the concept of the album here