Let Love (released August 30, 2019)
Is it fair to call Common underrated?
On one hand, it sounds pretty silly. Com has enjoyed a near 30-year career, gifting us several incredible albums worthy of the esteemed CLASSIK status.
But on the other hand, he’s often written off in today’s climate as more of a motivational speaker than an MC, lumped in with the LL Cool Js and Queen Latifahs of the world – those once-great rappers who now feel more like hip-hop spokespeople than actual artists.
Truth is, Common rests firmly between both worlds. But make no mistake, dude can outspit 90 percent of the rappers roaming this planet.
Let Love, Common’s 12 studio album, again finds him at the intersection of wise OG and confident MC. Consider it an offshoot of his new memoir, “Let Love Have the Last Word” – a dissection of the highs and lows of love.
Listen, an hour before writing this I saw a video of people fighting over their order at a Popeyes. We can’t even get chicken these days without throwing hands. Lord knows we need more love around here.
Common’s last album, the underrated Black America Again, examined the black experience in an attempt to expose truths to the unenlightened – or the willfully ignorant. But Let Love feels much more personal as Com uses his love language as both a tribute and as a cautionary tale.
“In the mirror staring at God’s reflection, reflecting on my aggressions/On my progressions, on my obsessions/There’s a lesson in not feeling less and in seeing life itself as a blessing,” Com spits on the opener “Good Morning Love,” setting the tone for the next 45 minutes. The jazzy, laid-back production ain’t made for SLAPPERS or BANGERS but is subtle enough for Common’s lyrics to be your main focus. “This rap here is fear’s eulogy.”
“HER Love” is the latest chapter in Common’s journey with hip-hop. In 1994, “I Used to Love HER” was a classic story about his frustration with the evolution of the genre. But he’s older and wiser now, saying “We all change, for what it’s worth/You an angel and still down to earth.” He even takes time to shout out the newest generation of artists.
Common’s still a master storyteller, which is apparent on “Fifth Story,” a tale of a woman who begins to suspect infidelity in her relationship. “Huntin’ and sniffin’ around for what’s relevant/Might get to sniffin’ his nuts like a elephant.” Do y’all really do that? I’m not talking about the huntin’, but the sniffin’ part. Seems like a lot.
In recent years, long-time Com fans have been more vocal about the kindler, gentler direction in his music. We do get a glimpse of the younger, hungrier Common on “Hercules,” which allows him to flex with a bit more aggression. Swizz Beatz’s hook is typically dry, though. Not sure when he became a go-to hook man, but it rarely works for me.
While I won’t totally agree with critics who claim he’s lost his edge, Common does feel like he’s riding in cruise control at times. “Memories of Home” and “Show Me That You Love” aren’t bad songs per se, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of “been there, done that.” They could have been lifted from any Common album in the past decade. Even “My Fancy Free Future Love,” which is a very fun listen, feels like “The Light” Part Two, down to the dusty sample and Com’s stuttering vocal cadence.
Despite some really strong concept tracks, Let Love does feel a little repetitive at times. But its message of love is still resounding. Common wraps up the album with “God is Love,” reminding listeners of love’s power in our darkest days – “Praying to Jehovah Rapha in the back of cop cars, even then we knew that love was not far.”
Common’s still preaching, still teaching and still proving he’s got gas left in his tank.
Best tracks: “Fifth Story,” “Good Morning Love,” “My Fancy Free Future Love”
3.5 stars out of 5