Last May, Chicago rapper Common, the mildest rapper in the history of rappers, earned an invitation to the White House, and with it a heaping helping of right-wing condemnation. He was tagged as a racist, and a devotee of cop killers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, by cable news commentators unfamiliar with his music. “This is the guy that we don’t want our kids to listen to,” said Sean Hannity, who had apparently never heard of Tyler, the Creator.
“The Dreamer/The Believer,” Common’s first post-infamy release, doesn’t address the recent contretemps, at least not in any real sense. The rapper has a bigger and more beloved takedown target in mind than a politician or anyone at Fox News. On the disc’s best, most self-referential track, “Sweet,” he insults . . . Drake. “You ain’t no . . . Frank Sinatra,” he taunts. “You ain’t a man yet / You trying to be somebody else.” Common goes on to insinuate, rather cruelly, that Drake was so delicate that even Europeans could beat him up.
It’s no wonder Drake gets under Common’s skin: moody, PG-13 loverman used to be his gig. Common is still trying to have it both ways: “Dreamer/Believer” alternates between consciousness-raisers such as “The Believer,” a John Legend-assisted tub-thumper name-checking “Precious,” Oprah and Langston Hughes, and pop-a-bottle jams such as “Celebrate.”
Nowhere is this division more evident than in the two opening tracks. On the fantastic exercise in cognitive dissonance “Ghetto Dreams,” Common, with help from Nas, fantasizes about obtaining the finest in ghetto housewifery, specifically a woman who can cook pancakes naked, has real breasts and enjoys reading the Bible and getting stoned. It’s preceded by “The Dreamer,” a lofty number with a feature from Maya Angelou. If she has anyone in mind for Common, she doesn’t mention it.
“The Believer,” “Sweet”