Common Aims to Inspire on ‘Black America Again’
Common’s latest album, Black America Again, couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. With Donald Trump elected president, Black America and many minorities aren't supporting the new Commander-in-Chief and his racist rhetoric, which makes much of the progress that got the Obama administration in power feel completely reversed. Rappers like Common have campaigned tirelessly for real political and social change but until Kanye West runs in 2020, we might be stuck in a proverbial rut. Thankfully, Black America Again is a strong, well-orchestrated and focused album that speaks on the issues at hand while giving listeners solid rap music that will hopefully empower and inspire.
The Chicago native is truly at his best when he’s locked in on a specific target and in this case it’s Black America -- something Common has felt incredibly passionate about since the Can I Borrow a Dollar? days. Com doesn’t waste any time as he sets the civic tone early and firmly with hopeful suggestion. He raps from a very philosophic perspective on the album opener “Joy and Peace” with bars like “All praise to the all-eye seeing, supreme-being/Giver of joy and peace, love supreme freedom,” which is then finished off with Bilal gracefully humming to “turn your light on.” It’s all very mellow and Sunday service-friendly but as the tracklist plays through, Common gets stronger in his convictions.
The title track “Black America Again” is the true crown jewel of this album and immediate focal point. The song is essentially the album’s nucleus, as the remaining 14 songs pull from its energy and overarching duality of Black people maneuvering through an oppressed America both past and present. Stevie Wonder blesses the bridge with some bone-chilling repetition of “We are rewriting the Black American story” even though Com’s verses serve as a reminder of why that story is in dire need of rewriting in the first place.
“Black children, they childhood stole from them/Robbed of our names and our language, stole again/Who stole the soul from black folk?” and “Think of Sandra Bland as I'm staring in the wind/The color of my skin, they comparing it to sin/The darker it gets, the less fairer it has been” are disheartening lines for anyone to hear but the pessimistic vibe transitions into the uptempo “Love Star” with Marsha Ambrosius. In fact, the latter and proceeding “Red Wine” are two tracks that take a break from the solemnity and let some cheerier emotions take hold.
For those looking for some of that classic, lyrical miracle Common, “Pyramids” is basically as layered as it gets. Leading a crusade against ageism with lines like “A nigga told me only rhyme for 19-year-olds/Nigga, you should rhyme wherever the spirit goes/Here it goes, lyrical miracles” and aside from referring to himself as “a gluten-free sandwich,” the entire three-and-a-half minutes is straight from the pen of that textbook Common Sense that earned him one of the 22 perfect XXL album ratings back in 2005.
Obviously this album is themed and therefore tailored towards expressing the recent plight of Black America so the heavy-hearted feeling overpowers more than celebration. There are many specific and intricate references to Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Dozier, Michelle Alexander, Noble Drew Ali and other historic figures that prove this is serious business. The latter half of the album, with the exception of the extraordinarily written “The Day Women Took Over,” is a downtempo affair so those looking for a party won't be listening more than not. Of course this album is incredibly well written, tightly produced (in large by Karriem Riggins) and poetically executed but it's a project that unfortunately flirts with the harsh reality of being heard and loved off the rip but then rarely revisited.
At the end of the day, Common creates a great album with such a pertinent and topical purpose. If nothing else, it's a strong snapshot of the happenings in America right now and the promise of what the country could become. Even though America’s near future race relations are far from certain, according to the “little Chicago boy,” Black America is more motivated than ever.
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