Common has nothing to prove to anyone going into his 9th studio album The Dreamer, The Believer. He is an artist that has mounds of respect from the music industry, stemming from other artists, producers, critics and fans. Earlier this year he joined Warner Brothers Records and announced that he would be releasing his next album under their label. Not to make it look like he was leaving his G.O.O.D. Music home and partnership with long-time friend Kanye West, Common made it clear that he will still always have a spot over on the G.O.O.D. roster, and will probably appear on a couple tracks from the labels upcoming compilation album. Despite a new label, Common keeps the production in the family in a big way with No I.D. delivering a masterful score throughout the album. Common and No I.D. have been working together for years, but really hit a stride on here with how they work with each other and piece everything together. The concept of the album is basic but interesting enough to make listeners develop a universal message of their own that derives from each complex track. There are very few, if any, risks taken on both Common’s and No I.D.’s part, but when two artists with so much experience, knowledge and respect work together, many risks don’t have to be taken to create something great.
After one straight listen-through of The Dreamer, The Believer, one thing will be blatantly obvious; No I.D. steals the show with track after track of genius production. No I.D. impresses easily with everything he produces, but when he is given the job of executive producing an album he really starts to show off. On the first track, “The Dreamer,” Common’s voice is often echoed at the end of a verse or prolific lyric to represent the concept of dreaming. Common goes off on a small humble speech towards the end of the track but still keeps his witty confidence in tact: “About to speak to auditorium full of dreamers/kind of took me back to when I first had a dream, to be like the King that sang Bille Jean/now it’s gold records and I’m on silver screens, at the mountain top you still gotta dream…” Common lets us know that despite the amount of success he has already achieved, he is not slowing down anytime soon.
Common released a plethora of songs from the album to promote it along with some videos. Each of these records (“Blue Sky,” “Ghetto Dreams,” “Sweet,” etc.) gave fans a very clear view of what to expect from the album. “Ghetto Dreams,” featuring Nas, was released extremely early in the promotion for the album, but takes on a whole new meaning when listened in conjunction with the rest of the tracks. It’s a track that fits the whole theme of struggle and success so well and easily has one of the best beats, which is saying a lot. Lines like “my ghetto house wife watches reality shows” gives the picture that Common lives a nice life but still faces those everyday struggles. Records like “Blue Sky” and “Sweet” compliment each other nicely, showing off two different sides of Common. On “Blue Sky” he shows off his more up-beat and intelligent side, and on “Sweet” he holds back nothing and gets straight up dirty on the heavy and climactic beat.
As stated before, Common gives a fantastic performance on every track, but No I.D. is right there ahead of him with every beat that unfortunately outshines the lyrics, which should be the main substance of the album. Too many times I found myself head rocking to the beat of a track only to completely disregard the lyrics and poetry from Common. On tracks like “Gold,” No I.D. implements some terrific, un-listed background vocals. Just like many other tracks on the album, these vocals help to perpetuate “Gold” to that next level and make it another stand out track, as far as production goes. It gives you the feeling that No I.D. laid out all of these beautiful beats on a table and then Common threw his lyrics onto them, matching the substance of his raps with the hooks. Common’s raps are great, and entertaining when paid attention to, but continue to bring more of the same from track to track.
The whole notion of dreaming and believing is brought out by another great track that I think will be over looked by most, “Lovin’ I Lost.” No I.D. slows things down with a smooth jazz inspired beat that Common uses to his advantage with some great word play: “Girl I never gave up, on you and us/I tried to take it day by day and whooo its tough/I know your young so you gotta live your life huh/I thought it was the right time for me to wife ya’…” Common’s flow really shines on beats like these and come off more as structured lyrics and than the poetry like rapping that is heard throughout a majority of the album.
There are some other gems on the album such as the dirty, police siren reddened “Raw (How I Like It)” that has another beautiful, un-listed hook and some great, unforgettable lines from Common. The John Legend assisted track, “The Believer,” is also a stand out, and is home to some of the best production on the album and maybe of the year, but then again, what did you expect from a G.O.O.D Music team up such as this? No I.D. on the boards, Legend with the vocals, and Common with the flow; a flawless recipe for an addicting hip-hop track oozing with soul. It is on tracks like these that Common delivers some of his best raps, but it is also on tracks like these where, once again, the hook and production flat out overshadows the raps. Ultimately, the balance could have used a bit more tweaking, but if anything, it is an album that shows off what two veteran artists can do when they team up for an album in our generation of modern gangsta-rap records. Would a handful of other artists have sounded just as good or better on these beats? Maybe, but Common undeniably brings that raw and old-school sound to the table and brings out the best in some of the finest production from No I.D. in some time.