The ever-dramatic race for the White House was more controversial than ever this year – and we all know how it ended now. But the arrival of the 2016 US Presidential Election was also the chief reason behind Chicago rapper Common releasing his eleventh studio album, Black America Again. It’s an invigorating record for the turbulent times that America, and the world, are facing.
Naturally, politics are the central theme here. Common puts people first, though, as heard on the powerful title track. Backed by a loop of protracted piano keys, rapid percussion and the plaintive howls of Stevie Wonder, Common raps about police brutality and discrimination towards black people in general, making reference to Black Lives Matter, the pay gap between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, and the cultural importance of John Boyega appearing in Star Wars.
Then, there’s ‘Pyramids’. Over a whirring patter, Common spits two verses of lyrical fire about the need to make hip hop for more than just “the 19-year-olds”, and shows his love for Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and Alabama Shakes along the way. Meanwhile, ‘Letter to the Free (feat. Bilal)’, the album’s closing song, deals with America’s “prison business”, and is equally as impactful.
Though heated political tracks are a big part of Black America Again, there’s also a lot of love. And a love for black women in particular. Singers Marsha Ambrosius (‘Love Star’), Paris ‘PJ’ Jones (‘Unfamiliar’), Tasha Cobbs (‘Little Chicago Boy’), and Syd tha Kyd (‘Red Wine’) all make appearances, adding some exalted female gravity to proceedings. When he’s not talking about knocking boots with “God’s most beautiful creation”, he’s showing love for the fairer sex with ‘The Day Women Took Over’.
Common’s latest album is a serious piece of work. It’s not just an album for today, it’s an album for the struggles come. It’s powerful and progressive, intimate and uplifting.
Black America Again is out now Artium/Def Jam Records.
Image: Artium/Def Jam