Common Carries Chicago on ‘Nobody’s Smiling’
You may remember that we have an Inturnt, Jonny Empire, and he knows a thing or two about rap. So we'll occasionally reward him for spending hours opening ANTENNA mail by letting him write some #relevant hip-hop #content.
With the ups and downs an artist can experience in the music industry — especially now that the industry is imploding — getting to album 10 is nearly impossible. If anyone in the rap game deserves a shot at this feat, though, it’s the voice of Chicago, Common. Common’s new album Nobody's Smiling hits stores with a purpose today (July 22), a purpose of speaking for thousands of individuals experiencing the difficulties and struggles in what has been dubbed Chiraq.
If you’re a fan of hip-hop, there is no debate that Chicago is the face of the scene, thanks to the newly acclaimed drill music sub-genre. Artists like Chief Keef, King Louie, Lil Durk, and others have taken drill music hyper-local to global (with a helpful co-sign from Kanye West along the way). And now Common is looking to make an impact on Chicago's youth today by boosting some of these young artists. Common isn’t only a rapper, he is a leader.
As a leader, it's your job to pave the way so others can experience a similar road to success. On Nobody's Smiling, Common lives up to that high standard by featuring some of Chicago's bright young stars, including Lil Herb and Dreezy. And the entirety of the album is produced by Chicago hip-hop veteran No I.D. Big Sean, Vince Staples, Jhene Aiko and Snoh Aalegra also pop up, but Nobody's Smiling is a Chi-Town affair first and foremost.
But it's also a showcase for Common. With one of the best voices in hip-hop, it makes it that much easier to listen to everything he’s saying. Don’t get it twisted, many rappers “talk to talk” nowadays, but are these rappers actually saying something you can relate too? Are these rappers making records that tell a story and can instantly be likened to an audio movie? Common is someone who rarely loses his purpose, and here he is dialed in.
On Nobody's Smiling opener "The Neighborhood," he delivers a couple of bars that instantly paint the picture of where this album is going. “The concrete matrix, street organizations, that gave violations, hood public relations. It was the basics to get big faces, stay away from cases, bad broads, good graces. The hustlers were the tastemakers and trendsetters. They the ones that fed us hoping that the feds won’t get us…” Lil Herb spits one of the most honest verses I’ve heard from the MC since getting familiar with him, but in the eyes of Common, this kid is what Chicago is today. “Ain’t nobody stop the violence, why my city keep lying? Niggas throw up peace signs but everybody keep dying. Used to post up on that strip, I looked like a street sign. I been out there three days and got shot at three times…” If that doesn’t paint a vivid picture in your head, I don’t know what will.
One of the things I’ve embraced from this album is Common continuing his legacy of influential content, while adapting to the music of today, without sounding like he's hopping onto the latest trend. There's purpose and sincerity behind it. If a 15-year-old picked up a copy of Nobody's Smiling and had never heard of Common before this, he might just wonder where the hell he’s been his whole life. He's comfortable in the elder statesman role on the LP, with the reassurance of “I’ve been in your shoes,” taking matters into his own hands, talking to youth and explaining the reoccurrence of gang-related drama in the streets of his city. It is up to our children of today to make a better tomorrow.
What's happening in Chicago can feel demoralizing. Altercations resulting in real tragedies that end in 82 people being shot over 84 hours on July 4th weekend. The violence has to end, and what better way to touch the people than through the music? Because of that backdrop, Nobody's Smiling has a weight attached to it. As far as Chicago hip-hop goes, mixtape after mixtape can include the massive abundance of weed, guns, and money in the streets, but where does it go from there? Common’s 10th album may have provided a route, and it's also a milestone for one of the best MCs to ever grace the mic. It could also be exactly what Chicago needs. That's a ton of responsibility, but Common knew that when he took on this project.
If you love hip-hop, go out and support this album. If you have a friend going through some trouble, go out and get this album for them. July 22, 2014, can be a special day in hip-hop, a day when the entire nation can hear why Nobody’s Smiling. Much love.
– Jonny Empire