Chicago native rapper Common has been a hip-hop mainstay for nearly 25 years, and on his latest album, Black America Again, he taps back into what has made him a legend in the industry.
As far as socially conscious music goes, Common has cornered the market. He has always been the first person to speak up, consistently injecting his songs with commentary on political and social issues.
Similar to what he did on landmark albums Like Water for Chocolate and Be, Common found a theme and sound and stuck to it, executing both with fantastic quality. Sonically, this album fits in the same category of the two, since it’s soaked with jazz, soul, and ‘90s boom bap flavour.
Black America Again is one of the most essential albums in 2016, since it presents a musical backdrop to the divisiveness of our times.
On the album’s title track, Common goes about tracing out overall struggles of his race in America.
“I know that black lives matter and they matter to us/These are the things we gotta discuss/The new plantation, mass incarceration/Instead of educate, they’d rather convict the kids/ As dirty as the water in Flint, the system is.”
The album paints a perfect portrait of not standing idle during unrest and is a quintessential protest to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s vision for America.
On “Joy and Peace,” he dreams of a conversation with his father who passed away two years ago, and he is reassured that things are not as bad as they seem. However, he aptly points out that it seems everyday there is a new struggle to face.
With an album so radically black and liberated, Common ensures that he will be the voice to fight for his people. Although the crux of the album focuses on black America, the veteran MC mixes in the struggles of others, including natives and women in the project’s narrative.
On “The Day Women Took Over,” he dreams of a great change in the world, where the animosity of men is replaced by more constructive and positive female energy.
“The day women took over, let it continue/ Now women get paid as much as men do/ Dr. Angelou’s lookin’ from Heaven’s window/ Tellin’ young girls phenomenal woman is in you.”
Enlisting no real rap features, Common instead opts for soulful additions from legend Stevie Wonder, as well as John Legend, Bilal, and BJ the Chicago Kid among others.
Everything starts to come to a close with the track “Little Chicago Boy,” which is the story of Common’s father, the lessons he taught, and the life well lived.
But Common saves the most powerful statement for last on “Letter to the Free,” which is filled with poignant statements about the prison industrial complex, police violence, and Trump’s hate-laden presidential campaign.
In a time of turbulence, it’s an artist’s job to guide the voice of the people—something Common has always done in his career. With Black America Again, he strikes the right cord at the perfect time, and the result is one of the best albums of the year.