Nobody’s Smiling is Common’s comeback in an age where Chicago’s hip hop scene is incredibly active and furthermore has a negative image centered around violence. In this joint he grazes the topic of the suffering of Chicagoans due to crime, drugs, and violence. Such parts are the highlight of the album, in contrast to most of the rest of it.
“The Neighborhood”, “Kingdom”, “No Fear”, “Nobody’s Smiling” (the song), all embody the spirit of the album. They carry much of the weight of the album. These songs are stories or settings that give a vivid view of the street life in Chicago, and the real feelings of someone personally dealing with it. Lil Herb’s verse is the ideal representation. In the opening tracks he supercedes Common with so much heart, in a way that cannot be described. You’d have to hear his voice. Even beyond such delivery, lines like
draw empathy from listeners.
The filler is hardly as impressive as a whole. There are decent moments, though, such as “Hustle Harder” which is the typical “yeah she’s the baddest chick” type of track. Common showcases a lot more flair and flow in that track than most of the rest of the album. The song as a whole (including Dreezy’s verse) has a sassy groove to it. The premise bears familiarity to fellow Chicagoan MC Tree’s song “Uh Million.” In the filler part of the album, Common also swings a decent braggadose with “Blak Majik” and “Speak My Piece”. The former features some aight melodic spitting from Jhene Aiko.
It only gets worse from there. The other unthemed moments are simply painful. “Diamonds” just seems to be put in to include a former labelmate. Sean’s chorus is light on the catchy, and heavy on the annoying with the wailing and cartoony yelps. The song as a whole just doesn’t earn its existence. Even Common’s bars come across as dull and uninspired, as forecasted by his opening line:
They come across this way in a lot of parts throughout the album too, not just “Diamonds”. In “Rewind That” despite the emotional connection to the topic, he struggles with parts of his verses, sounding like an amateur.
A lot of the young rap features shined over the vet. As previously stated, Lil Herb did his thing with the delivery; Malik Yusef showed off killer wordplay with his spoken word; Vince Staples’ verse was rhythmically impressive. Non-coincidentally, these are among the best songs on the album and fit into the main idea behind Nobody’s Smiling. In interest of “quality control” one could say this album was better off as a 4-track EP that focused on the theme. The extra songs just weigh it down to mediocrity.
Nobody’s Smiling gives a slight breeze from its peak.
Favorites: “Kingdom” “The Neighborhood”
Terrible Songs: “Diamonds” “Diamonds” “Diamonds” and “Diamonds”