Universal Mind Control reviewed – and the results are not good

Despite our hype, it doesn’t look like Common’s Universal Mind Control is getting too much love in the hip hop community.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a commercial success for Common. In case you haven’t seen it, Common and Afrika Bambaataa have a little TV spot for Microsoft’s Zune media player.

All tangents aside, I’ve gotta say I just can’t get excited about this album. And the readers over at Check the Rhime seem to agree with me.  Some of the comments are reproduced below:

ans says:

Man, coming from Common, this album is garbage. “I be on top of her like a philosopher.” Honestly…

I gotta be honest and say that Common trying to come hard just plain doesn’t work.  In Announcement, he actually says “When it comes to hip hop it’s just me and my bitch.”  That is not a lyric I expect from Common, and it pretty much dissapoints me.

Just compare this, a verse from Announcement:

representen shaw town to the fullest
raps are bullets
see those rappers they be dunken
when comm be bucken in the kitchen f**ken
on the sink got my momma a mink
common is the link
thought the game was extinct

And there’s always this little gem from the same track, which I guess is targeting people like me who think he’s still cerebral:

Brah’s say are you a philosopher?/Yeah, yeah, I’ll philosopha on top of ya.

Or this, from The Sixth Sense, a killer track from a while ago:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want millions
More than money saved, I wanna save children
Dealing with alcoholism and afrocentricity
A complex man drawn off of simplicity
Reality is frisking me
This industry will make you lose intensity
The Common Sense in me remembers the basement
I’m Morpheus in this hip-hop Matrix, exposing fake shit

That’s like Walt Whitman sitting down and writing a Harlequin romance novel.  Just a complete and total sellout.   If you haven’t had a chance to hear much of the album, here’s Announcement.

The Chicago Tribune is clearly on my side in this fight too.  In fact, they take it a step further:

Designed as a feel-good summer album, its release was delayed for several months because of the rapper’s burgeoning Hollywood career. Arriving on the doorstep of winter, its tone isn’t just out of step with the season, but with the unprecedented sense of possibility in the African-American community.

The Chicago Sun-Times calls this album pandering.  They talk about how Common’s always wanted to move units and gets fed up being pigeonholed as a backpack rapper.  Here’s my favourite quote:

As superstar producers the Neptunes deliver some of their weakest, most cliched and most phoned-in tracks ever — heavy on the generic techno thumps, synth burbles and played-out vocoder backing vocals — one of hip-hop’s most accomplished freestylers drops one leaden rap after another. Most are about sex, although there also are a couple of uncharacteristic “ain’t I great” boast-fests via “Gladiator” and “What a World.”

Even other newspapers are getting in on the action.  At least one has picked up on the fact that this album, and Common’s general trend towards the mainstream may be partly due to Jay-Z’s backhanded compliment from a few years ago.   On the Black Album’s Moment of Clarity, Hova rapped: If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be / lyrically, Talib Kweli / Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did five mil/ I ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since”.  And I guess this was the world’s most successful diss.  Not only did it make Talib fall off, but it’s gotten Common all crazy as well.  Money is power, I guess.

Even though he’s gotten bitchslapped by his own hometown papers, the folks over at Vibes and Stuff have posted a full review of the album that’s quite positive.  In fact, they state that it’s a “necessary departure” from Common’s last two albums.  Frankly, I disagree.  Be and Finding Forever both had heavily commercial aspects to them, and nececssarily got the Kanye pop flavour as well.  This let them cross over into mainstream appeal but Common still kept his lyrics tight and didn’t have to make tracks that sounded like someone having a seizure on a midi keyboard.

Now I’m not even saying that Common should only be restricted to making deep tracks, I get that club bangers have a place in hip hop and everyone’s entitled to a little artistic freedom.  He shouldn’t be pigeonholed.  However, I think there’s a big difference between making a club track and making a whole club album when you’re reputation is built on being a lyracist.  And Rolling Stone gave it 3/5 stars, so I guess they’re on board.

The worst part is that I know he still has it in him.  Changes, the one old-style track on the album is a anthem for Obama and not a bad track by any means.  it’s more traditional Common, which I obviously like, but more importantly it just shows some thought and effort.  The rest just sounds hastily cobbled together off of internet keystyles.

If you need any more proof, the final nail in this album’s tiny plastic coffin has to be the god-awful Sex 4 Sugar which is an awkward, cornball track and an embarassment to anyone involved in it.

Oh Common Sense, where art thou?

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