Now a days, what is the city of Chicago known for? Is it still deep-dish pizza or sports teams? Today, Chicago is often described as the murder capital of the U.S., often referred to as ‘Chi-raq.’ It’s the city that is known for guns and violence. Many neighborhoods in the city are in a sad state of hostility, gang violence and murders of the innocent.
Just last weekend, according to CNN, forty people were shot in the city resulting in four casualties. One of those casualties was an 11 year old girl who was shot while attending a sleepover. The sad stories have been pouring out of the city for a while now. The efforts to fix the situation have been constantly debated and talked about.
A big voice and savior has made noise this Tuesday, July 22, through music. Legendary rapper Common, who is from Chicago’s South Side, released his new album titled ‘Nobody’s Smiling.’ The album is strictly dedicated to his home city of Chicago, Illinois. The album features young rappers from the city including Lil Herb, Dreezy and Cocaine 80’s. The album was produced by long time friend No I.D. who is also from Chicago. Even the cover art for the deluxe version of the album is covered by Chicago rappers like King Louie, Lil Herb and Dreezy. ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ is an album attempting to uplift the people in Common’s home city through music and lyrics. It is a truly authentic and beautiful project.
Every track on the album deals with issues that are currently happening in many inner cities throughout the United States. Common relates these issues and problems back to Chicago and illustrates what he had to go through, how he overcame issues and how beautiful the struggle really is.
The opening track ‘The Neighborhood’ features both Cocaine 80’s and Lil Herb. The track paints the picture of Chicago gang culture in the present and past. Common spits the first two verses illustrating the older days when he was growing up in the streets of Chicago. The last verse features young rapper Lil Herb who is just twenty years old. The juxtaposition of the two rappers’ ages ties together the common issues in Chicago. Lil Herb points out the issue,
Can’t nobody stop the violence, why my city keep lyin’?
Ni**** throw up peace signs but everyone keep dyin'.
Other tracks on the album allude to this theme of troubles with Chicago’s gun violence in songs like ‘No Fear,’ ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ and ‘7 Deadly Sins.’ All of these songs point out issues that are wrong with the culture and how they contribute to the crime rate and ridiculous amounts of violence in the city.
In contrast, Common also writes uplifting songs that point out, that, yes, there are problems, but there are also strong, inspirational, powerful qualities in the people who grow up in an environment like Chicago. In his song ‘Hustle Harder,’ Common illustrates the strong, independent women who confidently strolls through the struggle and doesn’t let the bad bring her down. The song features a verse by up and coming female Chicago rapper Dreezy. She really ties up the song by spitting a fiery, confident verse that displays the resilient women that come out of the difficult inner city environment.
One of the biggest hits from the album is also an uplifting song about the beauty that can come from the struggle. ‘Blak Majik’ features the distinguished Jhene Aiko and plays on the idea that the fact that Common created himself out of nothing is magical. He grew up with little and ended up with quite a lot of success and wealth… Majik.
One of the highlights of the album is on the closing song ‘Rewind That.’ On the second verse, Common pays tribute to late friend, and legendary producer J. Dilla. In the verse, Common describes the course of their friendship and the eventual sickness that took Dilla’s life. The song will strike tears in any human because the honesty and love comes clearly through the verse. Common closes the song strikingly,
You never gone, you live forever through song
I feel it when I seem ‘em with the Dilla shirts on
I know you’re still shining, from heaven you watch me
Watch me put this Grammy on the stand you got me
Along with the lyrical accomplishments on the album, No I.D. as the producer deserves just as much appreciation. I.D. successfully portrays a mood and exemplifies the themes of the album through his production. There are eerie, dissonant beats like ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ and stylistically impressive beats like ‘Speak My Piece.’ No I.D. really delivers.
Common truly is a legendary rapper putting out songs like ‘I Used To Love Her’ and ‘The Light,’ working with the likes of Erykah Badu, Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West, and being a true definition of an Emcee. He portrays the true meaning of hip hop as a genre that unifies, encourages and uplifts the people who listen to the music. In ‘Nobody’s Smiling,’ there are realizations and epiphanies about the state of Chicago, and urban culture all together, along with words of encouragement to help build the people up who are affected by the continuous violence. ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ is more than an incredible album, but a project to help and inspire a large group of people.
Favorite songs on the album:
'Hustle Harder,' 'Blak Majik,' 'Speak My Piece,' 'Kingdom' and 'Real'