In an age of heightened global political tension, divided communities and with the whiff of revolution in the air, it comes as no surprise that hip-hop heavyweight Common has something to say.
His eleventh* studio album ‘Black America Again’ has been crafted from the same cook book as the previous ten with its mix of styles, tempos and collaborations, topped off with a liberal serving of Common’s cleverly considered conscious word craft – this time focusing in the main on the inequalities and injustices currently playing out in the US.
The musical base of this 12 course taster menu (15 if you include the intercourses) is mostly smooth and mellow but the topping is sometimes tough to digest when you ingest the message it seeks to convey. Tracks like ‘A Bigger Picture Called Free’ and ‘The Day Women Took Over’ bubble under with their back room jazz double bass, trumpet breaks and flourishes of flute. Others like title track ‘Black America Again’ are built of sturdier stuff, all striding piano chords and borderline angrily delivered lyrics, eased only slightly by the swelling strings.
The production (courtesy of long time collaborator and tour drummer Karriem Riggins) frames Common’s and the plethora of guest vocalists’ words exquisitely. The album requires at least three straight listens right off the bat; one for the sounds, two for the words and three for the blend of it all. Each time you’ll find something different to latch on to, every time you’ll walk away thinking hard about what’s being said. Essential listening for 2016 given all that is changing in the world.
* Count ’em: 1) Can I Borrow A Dollar? (1992), Resurrection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997), Like Water For Chocolate (2000), Electric Circus (2002), Be (2005), Finding Forever (2007), Universal Mind Control (2008), The Dreamer/The Believer (2011), Nobody’s Smiling (2014), Black America Again (2016)