‘Universal Mind Control’ Delivers What It Promised

common-umc-coverjpgThere has been much mental and verbal wrangling regarding Common's latest musical offering, Universal Mind Control. Those of us who have ridden down this lengthy career path with him since the early '90s are used to Common straight with no chaser. Sure, he went through his "crochet phase," but that was Erykah Badu's fault, right? Or is it possible that Com, much like the actor he has become, was only trying on personas to see which one was the better fit?

Using this logic, one can't help but to at least try to understand this newfangled Dance record that Common thinks he can release and expect us to eat up as we've always done. Just who does he think he is? Well, it seems as though he is someone who delivered a Dance album as he promised. Granted, UMC (née Invincible Summer) was slated for a Summer release, and nowhere is this more evident on "Everywhere" whose hook, "everywhere is Summer," is expertly sung by Martina Copley-Bird. This likely would have received a warmer response universally (excuse the pun) if this bouncy, glitter-encrusted record would have coincided with his portrayal of Green Lantern in the Justice League the Summer. Alas, it is almost Winter, and, unless you live in a climate similar to Southern California's, you're not in the mood for bouncy Pop tunes from someone who we're not used to trying to provide us with club bangers.  

Speaking of Southern California, let's revisit Common's choice to exclusively focus on seemingly empty Dance tunes. Common is currently Hollywood's go-to bit part actor. In short, he has Hollywood on the brain. UMC at its most basic common (excuse the pun again) denominator is a soundtrack to clubhopping down the Sunset Strip, moving on over to LaCienega Blvd, and then ending the night whispering into the ear of a girl ten years your junior who still smells of pink bubblegum lipgloss at some mansion in the Hollywood Hills. It's for the Megan Goods of this world whose idea of a great night is to party on top of tables and the men and women who love them for it. UMC is not for inner contemplation. UMC is for unabashed grindation whether it be on a dancefloor or stripper pole (see the blissfully raunchy "Sex 4 Suga"). Common is a man for whom being responsible was a card he carried at an age where many of us were still in UMC's party mode. This is a man who is raising a daughter, dated a tennis phenom, and sometimes is rumored to canoodle with Hollywood's best and finest young actresses on the path to furthering his own acting career. Can we fault him for wanting to shake a tailfeather?
I have to admit that it is refreshing to see someone just want to make music for strictly dropping it like it's hot. Someone who can also admit to doing so without him touting it as his greatest. Work. Ever. Hell, I'd rather listen to Common in the club with a nice beat than some of those nominated to be the best Hip Hop of this past year. Actually, some of my personal favorites from the album are tracks that feature him and his previous producer-in-crime Kanye West ("Punch Drunk Love") and tracks that honestly would sound better if Common were not rapping on them at all. In fact, Common's rhymes are at times so lackluster and intrusive to the sound that The Neptunes are trying to create with newer or fresher artists, Chester French for example, that UMC sometimes sounds like it could have been a Neptunes album featuring Common along with their handpicked special guest performers. Despite this, the album has its low points. Even the always wonderful Cee-Lo did what he could to rescue Common from his simplistic rhymes on "Make My Day," a song about beachy, sunny-filled Californication. The attempt at social commentary, "Changes" featuring Muhsinah, just seems misplaced and feels as though it was something he did in attempt to say that he made an introspective song this go-round. Deciding to release "Universal Mind Control" as this album's first single was a great move, since even Common's detractors can agree that the sample, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," is still one of the best party jams ever.
All in all, UMC is not Common's best album, but it's not his worst either. It's not his best, but it's not a horrible album. I actually sort of dig it. If anything, it is his attempt to remain relevant to a younger crowd. And it seems to be working
Common feat. Martina Topley-Bird: "Everywhere" (snippet)

Common: "Sex 4 Suga" (snippet)

Common feat. Cee-Lo: "Make My Day" (snippet)

Common Universal Mind Control [Amazon][iTunes]

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15 Responses

  1. Thanks for the review.I have every Common cd, so I will buy this one. I figured this cd would be the polar opposite of Electric Circus, so it could not be all that bad. I think folks wanted him to come out with BE part 2.

  2. This is a sharp bit of analysis, m'dear. Kudos.
    I'm not mad at pop tunes.
    Nor synth-y beats.
    Nor club bangers.
    It's the lazy and often times painfully awkward lyrics that are hurting me.
    And just a warning, if the comment stream turns into an Electric Circus bash-fest, I will be beefing. Y'all don't want it. The critiques and comparisons that people are throwing out there about EC these days are way lazier than Common's current rhyme styles.

  3. I will not buy it, however I listened to a advance copy for the past 2 days............after 2 days of constant listening I have to say this project is wack, not soulja boy wack but never the less wack. I cant find one track that I wanna press the replay button on, I cant co-sign, I won't co-sign, I don't co-sign. I'm sure there are some folks who are in techno heaven with this album but the feeling I am getting from the streets, from cats who ride and die for that real hip hop, this album is a waste of time. Not as bad as Kanye's but damn close. ....................

  4. UMC was too commercialized for me. Don't get me wrong, I love Common, but it was as if he intentionally tried to make a pop album. Not saying that's really a bad thing, but that's not expected from Common.

  5. I am one of the biggest Common fans on this earth. He disapointed me with this one. This cd is horrible and makes the Electric Circus cd sound like BE. When Common comes out I always look for lyrics and mellow rhythms with hip hop beats but this one I must admit is not Common at all. This is one of the MC's I always counted on of bringing back memories of the Late 80's (1988 best year in hip hop) in hip hop now after hearing this I really have to T0 GET THIS NIGHTMARE (UNIVERSAL MIND C0NTR0L) T0 THE NEAREST GARBAGE DISP0SAL. I am praying 4 1 M0RE SUMMER LIKE 1988. What happened T0 HIP H0P.

  6. all right ill Mami, how much did the C to the O-double M-O-N pay you for that? no, i'm kidding. i am not going to be "that dude" and hate any more than i probably already have on this album, or Common, for that matter. i am actually glad that you like the record for what it is. i think it's very problematic when so many people get caught up in something that they have decided they don't even like. i understand it, though. Common is one of our best examples of what hip-hop is. i think all too often, we look to people to be the savior of an entire genre. collectively, we've done that to a lot of people in the game. i think the recent examples of Kanye's and Common's current direction is proof positive that they don't really owe us anything in comparison to what they owe themselves as individuals and as artists. i admit that when i heard these two albums i was on some real WTF ish, but i had to look at it from their perspective. i think that these two artists in particular are doing what they feel is in their heart. i don't think either of them set out to be controversial, or to be "wack," as many of us have labeled them. i've come to realize that a lot of my favorite artists are suddenly making records that just aren't gelling with me personally. it's troubling to a point, but there's a lot of other artists whose albums are amazing (and i listen to a LOT of music). there's no need for me to be so preoccupied with disappointment and negative feelings about what one artist is doing, no matter how much i love them. their trajectory as an artist and my path as a fan are not always going to be in sync. maybe i'll catch 'em on the next go 'round. more of us need to take Lonnie's own words to heart: "if i don't like it, i don't like it, it don't mean that i'm hating.

  7. I love Common, he is one of my all time favorite hip hop artists/entertainers, I have every one of his albums...hell I even was down with the Crotchet Pants-E.Badu-Electric Circus Common, AND I actually liked that CD, but this CD is a no buy and I'm throughly disappointed with the delivery of the material. For some reason the whole project just seems rushed.

  8. Avatar

    I agree with DJStylus...these lyrics are lazy and quite awkward, almost my very first album, rhyming 101 awkward. It is disappointing to me just because even though he chose to take a lighter, more commercial/mainstream/pop approach does NOT mean he had to sacrifice with the lyrics. That I can't get with. And Dar, I completely appreciate your position in that sometimes the decision an artist decides to take with their career is not always going to be in sync with what we want as supporters. Its true, and at some point all of us had a favorite artist who put out great album after great album, and then all of sudden they have a WTF? album. You still love them, but you just take the WTF? album for what it is and keep it movin to the next album. OR you can do what I do, and listen for what it is, and forget that it's Common spittin these crappy lines...

  9. dar gets it.
    Now whose job will it be to break it to Keith that 1988 was 20 years ago (and it's not coming back)?

  10. I like 50% of this album, and that's the 50% Common showed up for.

  11. i feel you guys who are speaking on the lyrical aspect. i think that was what was most problematic for me. perhaps he felt that he needed to dial it down lyrically to "match" the lighter tone of the music. i don't know--i can't speak for the dude. all i do know is that it was a mistake, haha. i don't like the idea that dance music has to be dumbed down, so to speak.
    i liken this whole UMC ordeal to an unplanned pregnancy--there's not much we can do about it now. this baby is here. we can either keep it and nurture it, or give it up for adoption. i didn't buy it, or even steal it off the Internet, so my hands are clean.
    *does the Maury Povich 'you are not the father!' dance*

  12. LMAO @ dar

  13. i really HATED this album. i feel like Common really jipped us. Like he's started running down the path of just make some money and not the path (we've known him to follow): REALITY. Kayne has always been like that. (i dont bother w/ him much). The song he has w/ him is SOO VULGAR.
    But yeah...Common really threw me for a loop. i havent even listened to his old stuff i've been so taken aback recently.

  14. Couldn't it just be a natural decline in abilities though? How many artists out there consistently put forth solid albums that get better and better? Usually after an artists first two albums, the rest doesn't match up.. lyrically at least.


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