Common is on Autopilot on ‘Black America Again’
Common delivers a tour de force with Black America Again. Arguably, Black America Again is his best album in years.
Common is a “one of a kind” rapper. Almost always socially and politically conscious, his latest album, Black America Again, exemplifies both characterizations. It’s an album that serves as an account encompassing being black in America, the power of women, and love among other things. The best way to describe Black America Again is a complete, masterfully assembled effort.
Black America Again opens spiritually with the brief “Joy and Peace” featuring Bilal. The rhymes are meaningful, particularly moments such as “N*ggas get foreign cars and think they made it / it ain’t yours ‘til you create it.” Another moment of spiritual prudence arrives at the end of Common’s verse:
“Christ particle, so anything is possible / F*ck big brother, father, mother, God is watching you.”
Standout “Home” is well produced, well rapped, and features an exceptional hook. As always, Common showcases the utmost consistency, once more getting an assist from Bilal. It opens with a Louis Farrakhan sample, with Common following up with both Biblical and black experience references. Bilal hands the chorus, which finds his voice pitch-shifted and nearly unrecognizable. He quotes a traditional negro spiritual:
“Soon I will be gone with the trouble of this world / trouble of this world, trouble of this world / soon I will be gone with the trouble of this world / going home to live…”
“Black America Again”
Following interlude “Word from Moe Luv,” powerful title track “Black America Again” (featuring Stevie Wonder) arrives. Throughout its course, Common references the unfortunate injustices of blacks and the necessity for more blacks to breakthrough and be successful. This is incredibly evident as he raps:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident / all mean and women are created equal / including black Americans.”
Stevie Wonder has a minimal role, repeating the line, “We are rewriting the black American story.”
Romantic track “Love Star” (featuring Marsha Ambrosius & PJ) is respectable, but definitely a shade less notable than the best. Thoughtful considering its emphasis on love, it doesn’t feel as deep or as transcendent as his best work. After the jazzy “On A Whim Interlude,” the intriguing “Red Wine” arrives, enlisting Syd and Elena. The Results are enigmatic and radiant.
From the beginning of “Pyramids,” Common is fired up:
“A n*gga told me he only rhyme for 19-year-olds / n*gga, you should rhyme wherever the spirit goes / here it goes, lyrical miracles / these are pyramids from the imperial.”
“Pyramids” ranks among the most elite moments from Black America Again. It is hard-hitting finding discussing legit rap as opposed to empty rap. He goes on to provide shout outs including Public Enemy (“The reincarnation of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, coldest raps / for me the globe is like a cul-de-sac”) and The Roots (“The Roots are my n*ggas so I gotta fly bandwidth”). The production work is superb, as are the rhymes, which are incredibly agile. He suggests he has a bigger purpose as a rapper and it stretches the world.
“A Moment in the Sun Interlude” sets the tone for another romantic joint, “Unfamiliar,” featuring PJ. “Unfamiliar” is sound, not unlike “Love Star,” but eclipsed by other records. “A Bigger Picture Called Free” packs a mightier punch, enlisting Syd and Bilal once more. Uniquely produced, “A Bigger Pictured Called Free” speaks upon the black experience.
“The Day Women Took Over”
The most powerful statement that Common makes about women comes on highlight “The Day Women Took Over.” He honors the achievements that they’ve made, as well as makes note of the role models that they are. BJ The Chicago Kid nails the hook, which sums up the MC’s sentiment:
“Oh what if women took over the world / oh, every woman, boy and girl / oh, maybe one day, we will see / peace and unity the way it’s meant to be.”
“Rain” (featuring John Legend) is another magnificent moment. Legend soulfully delivers what is initially a piano ballad. Eventually, Common enters in, rapping exceptionally over a piano-string backdrop, with backing vocals from Legend.
Penultimate record “Little Chicago Boy” follows, featuring an unlikely collaborator, Tasha Cobbs. The collaboration makes perfect sense contextually, with Cobbs bring the gospel grit, quoting hymn, “Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee.” Black America Again concludes with the terrific “Letter to the Free,” a blend of gospel, hip-hop, and soul. Bilal appears once more, channeling his best gritty, emotional vocal performance.
All in all, Common delivers a tour de force with Black America Again. While his previous album Nobody’s Smiling is stiff competition, Black America Again is arguably his best album in years. The reason why this album is spot-on is because of its relevancy to the times. Sure, the romantic songs don’t fit nearly as perfectly as the deeper, more socially-charged songs, but their inclusion is no deal breaker.
Gems: “Home,” “Black America Again,” “Red Wine,” “The Day Women Took Over,” “Rain” & “Letter to the Free”