It’s not an album, it’s a movement: Common’s ‘Black America Again’
Carlos De Loera | Thursday, November 10, 2016
On Nov. 4, Common released his eleventh studio album “Black America Again,” and from the get-go the rapper lets the listener know this a politically charged album. In an interview with the radio show “The Breakfast Club,” Common stated the album’s title is “a movement, a call to action … we [African-Americans] are writing a new story … [the new story] is about God first … and looking at each other with love.”
The Chicago rapper claims that part of the reason for releasing this album was “to show that we [African-Americans] are aware.” He has been very active in telling young people to get out and vote and strategically released the album ahead of the presidential election. Common says that inspiration for the album came from the political climate, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Public Enemy, the musical “Hamilton” and Ta-Nahisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” Kendrick and Chance reassured him that his style and themes were still relevant to this day. Coates (a 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient) in his book documents the life of an African-American youth growing up in Baltimore and in this album Common is trying to document “black history.”
Common and fellow Chicago rapper, Kanye, have a long history together that goes back to Kanye’s “The College Dropout” days and Common was even signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music label from 2004 to 2010. In the song “Joy and Peace,” Common makes an allusion to Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” when he writes, “He said, ‘Things ain’t as bad as they seem’/Is this a God dream the way Ye sing it?” In the single “Black America Again,” Common opens with the line, “Here we go, here we go again,” which is a tribute to the MC style of Public Enemy’s Chuck D.
Upon first glance, the least likely source of Common’s inspiration comes from the blockbuster Broadway musical “Hamilton.” However, some of the main themes of the musical are revolution and equality, which are also some of the major themes of this album. “Hamilton” also drew inspiration from a myriad of creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s favorite rappers, which Common found intriguing. The rapper felt the musical’s ethnically diverse cast embodied the hope that this album tries to bring about. In the song, “Black Again America,” the rapper sings, “We hold these truths to be self-evident/All men and women are created equal,” which is an homage to “The Schuyler Sisters” from “Hamilton” (and the Preamble).
Despite drawing so much influence from other artists, at no point does Common lose his own voice. This album is, through and through, a classic Common album — from the jazzy beats to the ‘90s style flow. Musically, the album relies heavily on the use of piano and a strong backbeat. The album also features songs with two of the more well-known pianists in popular music, John Legend and Stevie Wonder. What really stand out, as per usual for Common, are the lyrics throughout the album, which inspire deep thought and promote society to reflect on its current state.
Common is still at the height of his powers, and we should all bask in the “glory” of it.
Notable tracks: “Black America Again,” “Home,” “Pyramids”
If you like: The Roots, D’Angelo, Kendrick Lamar
Rating: 4.5/5 Shamrocks