written by: Carla Bynum
On July 22, he released his tenth studio album Nobody’s Smiling, an album inspired by the violence in his hometown Chicago. He gives listeners the chance to navigate the chaotic Chi-town scene through the eyes of our youth.
“No Fear” describes a fearless man named Chris who talks with a mumble, wears Jordan Airs and a Chicago Bears hat and rose to notoriety in Chicago. The song was inspired by the seemingly fearless generation coming out of Common’s hometown.
One of the lead singles on the album is “Diamonds” featuring Detroit rapper Big Sean. In perhaps the most unexpected collaboration on the album, Common and Big Sean may seem like polar opposites but they manage to make the song work. The motto of the song seems to be: No need to wait to shine tomorrow, let’s get it today.
Common gets assistance from singer Jhene Aiko for “Blak Majik,” a song about transforming nothing into something. The song was inspired by black people who come from inner cities and went on to do amazing things.
The album’s producer No I.D. described the song “Speak My Piece” as one of the more daring songs on Nobody’s Smiling. It is a fun song that samples The Notorious B.I.G’s “Hypnotize.”
“Hustle Harder” is an empowerment song for women that features Snoh Aalegra and rapper Dreezy. The song is about a woman who hustles harder than any dude Common’s ever seen with her red lipstick, Gucci purse and glaciers on her neck and fingers. Her life is like a movie.
The album’s theme song comes in the form of the title track “Nobody’s Smiling” featuring Malik Yosef. Common paints a picture of the street life surrounding Chicago with “niggas wildin’ on Stoney Island” and selling on the block like an auction. The song depicts the struggle of the city.
Common has admitted that “Real” is different for him and has more of a commercial feel to it but he wanted to make a song that everyone can relate to. The song features singer Elijah Blake.
Perhaps the most emotion-provoking song on the album is “Kingdom” featuring Vince Staples. The song starts off with a poem that highlights the deadly nature of Chicago. With 421 deaths, the author feels he may be next and wonders if he’ll make it through heaven’s gates when he dies. “Kingdom” was inspired by the killings in Chi-town which is somewhat depicted in the accompanying video.
“Rewind That” is the final song on the album and focuses on things in Common’s life he sometimes wishes he could go back and change. In the first verse, he takes a look back at the beginning of his career. The second verse is dedicated to a close friend of his who passed away a few years ago, producer J. Dilla.
There is a deluxe version of the album which features three more songs. Common aims to break free from his past on “Out on Bond” featuring Vince Staples. On “7 Deadly Sins,” he talks about how each deadly sin affects our lives and he shows us the perspective of the Chicago youth on “Young Hearts Run Free” featuring Cocaine 80s.
Nobody’s Smiling is a thought-provoking album that aims to raise awareness of the tragic state of inner city communities across the nation, especially Common’s hometown. This album is a good representation of how Common has maintained such longevity in the music world and it’s no wonder that it has become his third top ten charting album.
Recommended Tracks: “The Neighborhood,” “Nobody’s Smiling,” “Kingdom,” “Rewind That”