Common – ‘Universal Mind Control’

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Big Issue #320, January 2009.

Universal Mind Control
Common
**

Celebrated Chicago rapper Common has made a career out of sophistication. His mature, socially conscious raps and soul-jazz backing have made for the kind of hip hop that even mum could enjoy.

Eighth album, Universal Mind Control, is a huge departure. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of departure – complete with Neptunes production credits – that screams of midlife crisis rather than reinvention.

Everything about this record is un-Common. Cuts like ‘Punch Drunk Love’, and ‘Sex 4 Suga’ are riddled with clunky innuendo and self-aggrandising sex-raps. Sweaty, teenage garbage like “I don’t mind being behind / because I’m gonna touch you where the sun don’t shine” is awkward enough; the fact that it spills from the mouth of a proven lyricist makes it plain embarrassing. The Neptunes’ overcooked production style doesn’t help. Even on the rare occasion Pharrell and his cronies actually give Common the chance to shine – like on the rugged ‘Gladiator’ – they sabotage him with screeching, top-end brass and synth lines.

The rattling groove of ‘Inhale’ offers some respite, but it’s too little, too late. By then, this album has already betrayed itself as the sound of an artist in creative and personal flux. Universal Mind Control is Common’s heavily financed Porsche.

Dan Rule

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