Album Preview: Common’s “Universal Mind Control”

As Common plays “Universal Mind Control,” the opener to album of the same name, he can’t help but pop-lock a little bit as he mouths the words along with the track. By his own admission, Common’s records have never been known as club bangers but that’s definitely about to change. While attending his shows’ after-parties last year, he noticed a distinct pattern while everyone celebrated.

 

“My own DJ wasn’t playing none of my songs and I realized I needed something for people to rock in the clubs,” he explains. It’s almost as if Common only recently noticed that he had a certain image that the rest of us assumed he was cultivating intentionally. Never content to sit back and do the expected, he began work on the Invincible Summer EP that eventually grew into this full album.

 

While much of Universal Mind Control is comprised of dance records, don’t think that Common is somehow compromising himself. He still injects his own high-minded take on music into each track and, with the help of The Neptunes and Mr. DJ.

 

“We wanted to take the music to the future and do things that I had never done before and they had never done before,” he tells the small group at New York’s Legacy Studios. Mission accomplished: even for a production team known for diversity, UMC breaks new ground.

 

 

“Universal Mind Control”

Produced By The Neptunes

The Afrika Bambaataa inspired single featuring Pharrell that sets the tone for what’s to come. No big changes from what we’re already heard.

 

“Punch Drunk Love”

Produced By The Neptunes

A laid back swing where Comm talks to a lady giving him “the eye.” Kanye heard it and insisted on getting on the hook so some changes were made and the original featuring Pharrell became the remix. That other version is likely to appear as a bonus track.

 

“Make My Day”

Produce By Mr. DJ

A little bounce mixed in with So-Cal top-down music with a touch of Outkast. Cee-Lo assists on this hook, who Common says he’d like to work with on every album.

 

“Sex 4 Sugar”

Produced By The Neptunes

Common ties on a little Jungle Brothers on top of a thumping beat and marching-band snares. Common’s talking to a stripper on this one and it’s definitely not about going to college.

 

“Announcement”

Produced By The Neptunes

Another single featuring Pharrell, who came to the studio with his verse already on this joint. “We just wanted to make a tribute to Biggie in our own way,” Common says of the track, which flips “Dreams” into 2008.

 

“Gladiator”

Produced By The Neptunes

Anyone who would still accuse him of being granola or going hipster will have their mouths shut for them by “Gladiator”; a ridiculously hard auditory assault. Common jokes that he tried to mix a little Ghostface into the Rza influenced beat (“You know how Ghostface will come on the hook like ‘yeah n****, what!’”); a definite favorite in the room.

 

“Changes”

Produced By Mr. DJ

Again, Common hasn’t entirely abandoned inspirational themes and imagines that this track could be something for Barack Obama to play on inauguration day. Mr. DJ layers sounds to create a bright visual for him to speak on and at the end, Common’s eleven year old daughter steps in to drop a little poetry.

 

“Inhale”

Produced By The Neptunes

Common says this one “Is just good Hip-Hop. I don’t really have a big explanation for it.” Probably the most prototypical Neptunes beat with Chad even joining in to scratch in a sample of Tribe’s “Sucka N****.”

 

“What A World”

Produced By The Neptunes

Common breaks down the typical conventions of structure to tell the story of his life on a funk inspired track. D.A. from Chester French passionately sings the hook over Max’s guitar riffs and a N.E.R.D. meets Blondie flavored arrangement.

 

“Everywhere (Runaway)”

Produced Mr. DJ

Believe it or not, if Common formed a band with Pat Benatar or Stevie Nicks, this is probably what they’d come up with and it turns out a lot better than you’d assume. Probably the most deliberately 80’s song, it absolutely accomplishes the goal of delivering something unexpected.

 

 

                                 Verdict:

 

While this record is decidedly not another attempt at Electric Circus, it is a more expansive take on Common than you’re probably used to. Hollywood is paying Common’s bills quite nicely these days, freeing him to truly make music for the love. With his musical career experiencing a second renaissance and Hip-Hop opening up to a more broad take on the art, it’s perfect time for him to branch out and he takes full advantage. Don’t let it slip by in the crowded December schedule.

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