Rating: 9 / 10
On the intro track, “The Dreamer,” Dr. Maya Angelou proclaims over exquisite No I.D. production, “Let us dare to dream.” Considering the source, it proves to be a powerful message indeed. Revived and re-introduced to a younger generation through Kanye West, Common enlisted longtime, or maybe more accurately long-ago, collaborator No I.D. for production. The last time the two worked together was in 1997. Now at the tail-end of 2011, The Dreamer, The Believer is released in the midst of high expectations. “Told my n*gga ‘Ye, I’m about to win the Grammys now”, Common spits confidently on the first song, and with good reason.
The spoken word piece by Dr. Angelou comes after Common lets his rhymes drift over bass and drum kicks you could fall in love with. However, the smooth and tranquil mood of the intro is quickly smacked out of the listener’s ears with “Ghetto Dreams.” The hard-hitting single features a standout verse from Nas (“Warned that I’m sadistic/ They liked it, they dyked it, devices, twisted”) but with Common’s opening lines (“I want a b*tch that look good and cook good”), he sets the gruff tone. “Sweet” is awesome; the braggadocio lines, brash cursing and yelling, in-your-face video and ironic sample in the backdrop all add to the intriguing rawness of the song. And the clashing drums and taunting hook of “Raw (How You Like It)” only add to the muscle of the LP as Common spits, “’You Hollywood’/ Nah n*gga, I’m Chicago. So I cracked his head with a muthaf*cking bottle.”
But it is on songs like the ambitious “Blue Sky” that Common “gets it in.” With ever-growing spacious production, Common declares his style “hood elegance.” A fitting adjective. Com Sense is one of few emcees that can walk the fine line between the corner, and the “Cloth,” one of the best songs on an album, jam-packed with synth and bass grooves. Speaking on him and a woman being cut from the same cloth, Common raps, “I recall, the walls that I had up/ Attracted to women for things that didn’t matter.” Never on the shallow end, “Lovin’ Lost” speaks in a wily, old fashioned drawl that brings a sincere storytelling aspect to the cut, and “Windows” which possesses a heartfelt second verse about his daughter.
And that seems to be the glue to the album; the progressive and fresh, yet soulful instrumentation provided by No. I.D. The Dreamer, The Believer has the same cohesiveness of Be, but with a more lively mood. Common sounds alive on this record – like he’s in a good place in life. The shiny, gold album cover communicates the warm, positive energy that the LP evokes; every song has a meaning and is full.
Before the customary Pop’s outro, the album ends with the stellar “The Believer,” featuring John Legend on the gospel-esque vocals. To start from the ‘Dreamer’ and end with the ‘Believer’ insinuates the symbolism of transitioning from dreaming, to believing your reaffirmed dreams. But I’m not too sure if there’s any over-arching theme here; it’s just good ass music and the perfect album to cap off the year.