Album: Common, The Dreamer/The Believer (Warner Bros)

5.00

 

Three years on from Universal Mind Control, Common reverts back from that album's Neptunes-produced techno grooves to a more old-school hip-hop style, courtesy of his long-time friend (and Kanye West's mentor) No ID, with whom he last worked on 1997's One Day It'll All Make Sense.

It's an appropriate shift of style for an extended dose of positive hip-hop that Common believes "can really generate good spirit".

"The Dreamer" opens the album with Common at the Grammy Awards a few years ago, surveying his position in the game, and "gettin' Johnny Cash old white folks number now". It's swathed in heavy echo, as if a movie dream recollection, and segues via a passage of reversed guitar into Maya Angelou sermonising about the struggle. "We are here today," she reminds the hip-hop audience, "because our ancestors dared to dream". The dream theme continues in "Ghetto Dreams", where Nas and Common reflect on the meagre fantasies allowed the poor, in which - affirming Milan Kundera's analysis - sexual expression becomes an expression of freedom.

The album's other main strand, of religious belief, is most explicitly tackled at the other end of the album with John Legend in "The Believer" itself, where the hustling beat, heavenly choir and Legend's piano backdrop Common's rapid-fire rap about how, despite it being "hard to see lessons in a violent culture", he believes that "even through the unseen, I know that God watches us". It's a principle that supports him through tribulations of a personal nature: in "Cloth", one of several tracks focusing on his relationships with women, he uses the metaphor of torn fabric to express how splits can be mended, observing, "It's two seams that seem to hold us together - God is our tailor, and that's forever".

Elsewhere, Common offers further lessons in how to boast without disrespecting others, by making emancipation the subject, rather than aggrandisation. "I rhyme for the commoners, my name is synonymous," he claims in "Sweet", "I am to hip-hop what Obama is to politics". And where more brutish rappers might use the swirling symphonic-soul samples and marimba of "Gold" to proclaim their greed, he confirms his fellowship with the less well-off: "I am the smell of the weak and underprivileged/I want y'all to get a whiff of this". That he manages to express such ethical and religious principles without coming across like a sanctimonious buzz-killer is quite remarkable; indeed, in tracks like the singles "Blue Sky" and "Celebrate" - with No ID bizarrely making funky grooves from samples of ELO and Kenny Loggins - Common comes up with two of the more feelgood party anthems of recent years.

The final word, though, must go to the late Gil Scott-Heron, accorded the tribute of the album's closing track "Pops Belief". Over ruminative piano and synth noodlings, Gil reflects on his ancestry and the persistence of his religious beliefs, echoing Maya Angelou's earlier contribution with the claim that "We inherit the power to turn nightmares into dreams". It's a matter of inheritance as duty: as the poet Delmore Schwartz once put it, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.

Download this: The Dreamer; Blue Sky; Celebrate; Gold; The Believer

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor