Album review | HIP-HOP

Common, ‘Nobody’s Smiling’

Public Image Limited told us anger is an energy, and that holds true for the veteran MC Common, who channels his rage at the violent troubles in his home city of Chicago with this intensely introspective new record. It’s a return to Common’s social-observer roots as he’s helped by producer No I.D., who provides an expansive sonic canvas for the MC to paint his bleak portraits of a city in distress. Although “The Neighborhood,” “Nobody’s Smiling” (with beats echoing gunshots), and the gospel-infused “Kingdom” are Chicago-specific, Common clearly suggests that the nihilism and chaos reverberate nationally. Frequently his usual velvet flow turns brittle and frayed, mirroring the fraught material. He gives the disc more dimension by including a nostalgic banger (“Diamonds”) and an elegant elegy for the late producer and friend J Dilla (“Rewind That”). With electrifying cameos from Chicago’s Vince Staples and song-stealing Dreezy, these vital, relevant tracks remind how good Common can be when he’s focused. (Out Tuesday)