There are very few albums in which the opening seconds are able to set the tone for everything to come. We all hesitated the first time we heard Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, then Ye spoke up, “I fantasized ‘bout this back in Chicago...” and you knew all was well.
The same can be said for the opening, auto-tuned bars of “The Neighborhood,” the first track on Common’s Nobody’s Smiling. The lyrics suggest discontent, veiled in a catchy yet haunting melody. It invites you to enjoy what you hear, but not without considering the darker ideas at play. Nobody’s Smiling carries this theme, at times catchy, full of skillful rap technique, but all centered thematically on the violence and high crime rate in Common’s hometown of Chicago.
Common enlists long time collaborator No I.D., the lone producer on the album, whose diverse sonic command drives the album as much as any of Common’s verses. I.D.’s choppy snare hits punctuate the brooding, distressed tracks, while production on the more palatable tunes sits back and nonchalantly propels the groove and vocal hooks.