The sheer breathless intensity of Common’s creativity is something to behold. More than two decades on from his first stint in the booth, he’s moved from jazz-leaning beat-poetry through to award-winning acting stints, a best-selling book, and even a co-sign from Michelle Obama.
2019’s return to form ‘Let Love’ placed renewed focus on his lyrical ability, something that it amplified on his absorbing new project. Steeped in his Soulquarian roots, ‘A Beautiful Revolution Pt 1’ taps into the man’s bedrock, while also presenting fresh avenues for exploration across seven songs that prove Common’s brand of soulful hip-hop remains thoroughly unique.
Of course, the stellar band also help. Common renews his long-standing Robert Glasper association, while guests range from Black Thought and PJ through to Lenny Kravitz. Indeed, this is testament to the breadth on display, with ‘A Beautiful Revolution Pt 1’ expertly matching the intimately personal to the explicitly societal, a creative union of micro and macro.
Opening cut ‘Fallin’ pulls you into his world, before the sublime ‘Say Peace’ finds Common delving into matters personal. An artist who only seems to find acceptance in creativity, the track affords the Chicago-born artist space to once more chop it up with the best of ‘em.
‘Courageous’ name-checks Stevie Wonder, and then finishes with some glorious harmonica trills, worthy of the ‘Inner Visions’ genius himself. ‘A Place In The World’ is a potent and timely examination of the American democrat process, exposing its failing while also yearning for a sense of belonging – with the pageantry of the Presidential election at its peak, lines such as “you know that politicians they love to perform...” hit hard.
The rock edge on ‘A Riot In My Mind’ is one of the project’s most overtly pessimistic moments, with Common reaching into the anger that many have felt over the past 18 months. He’s able to channel it in a truly profound way, the fusion of his desperation at police brutality and its consequences on Black communities and those raw sounds intertwining perfectly.
‘Don’t Forget’ has a neat ‘94 feel, with the low-slung beat offset by super-sweet vocals from PJ. A statement of identity and belonging, it clears the decks before the spoken word outro: “The truth is revolution can be small...”
In an era dominated by polarisation and opposition, ‘A Beautiful Revolution Pt 1’ seems to find its meaning in unity, and movement. Much more than a throwaway project, it contains some of Common’s most insightful, daring, and overtly beautiful music in a decade.
Words: Robin Murray
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