Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, 2 x Vinyl LP
Six months shy of his 50th birthday, Common remains dedicated to the core tenets of his artistry—a rap polymath, speaking righteous truth. On the second installment of his series A Beautiful Revolution, the Chicago rapper sounds comfortable in his skin, kicking characteristically loquacious rhymes, sounding so relaxed he could fall out of his chair. A Beautiful Revolution (Pt. 2) might lack the rumble and hiss of his early music, but Common circa 2021 is making better rap than a middle-aged legend with nothing left to prove has any right to be making.
Less interested these days in the boom-bap drums and heavy sampling of his most famous work, Common instead raps over an eclectic set of instrumentals that includes West African rhythms, Delta blues, and R&B. “When We Move” is one of the better rap-Afrobeat amalgamations in recent memory, as Common, Black Thought, and Seun Kuti (son of Fela) fluidly flow over choppy guitars and peppy percussion. The hooks also have a light touch, with singer PJ offering sultry choruses on five songs.
Lyrically, Common eschews the news cycle for more eternal topics. On “Set It Free,” he exalts the importance of inner beauty; “Poetry” celebrates great Black thinkers, from Toni Morrison to Public Enemy. As ever, Common remains positive, remains a dreamer: “Imagine” borrows a title and a concept from John Lennon, picturing a world where water runs freely in Flint and Black people aren’t incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. “Since I was little, I had a big imagination,” he raps in a great voice. Fourteen albums deep, that imagination still has a crucial place in hip-hop.