It’s been a busy 12 months for Common. With a starring role on AMC’s Hell On Wheels, a freshly inked deal with Warner Bros., a White House invite turned Fox News skirmish, and a recently published memoir, it’s a wonder the rapper had any time at all to even write an album, let alone record and release it before the year’s end. The Dreamer/The Believer unfortunately plays out like a trial in time management; it’s a passable album of mostly neutral jams and bare-minimum production.
Touted as Common’s great return to making positive, socially conscious hip-hop (see the guest-reading from Maya Angelou on opening track “The Dreamer”), the record does have a recognizable flow and familiar rawness. “Sweet” is an aggressive declaration of Common’s undeniable MC skills (“How can I say this? / Fuck it, I’m the greatest / I am the A-list for all these great debaters”), while “Celebrate” is a soulful reminisce on the smaller joys in life.
The Dreamer certainly tones down some of the experimentation that divided listeners on 2008’s Universal Mind Control, but it doesn’t seem to offer much else in place of that. The beats are repetitive, the choruses are mostly forgettable, and a few tracks—like “Windows,” an obligatory middle-aged reflection on being a father—are downright cheesy. Common doesn’t write hooks so much as he crafts verses. And while that makes for some excellent battle-ready wordplay, The Dreamer overall comes off as little more than wishful thinking.