Universal Mind Control
REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/23/2010
When Common is mentioned in a conversation on rap, “socially conscious” is likely to be uttered or suggested. Universal Mind Control has a bit of irony about it, as the title track features phrases like “coochies poppin’” and “move your behind,” though to be fair, the lyrics aren’t as important as the synth-driven production of The Neptunes.
I’m reminded of Q-Tip’s solo debut, Amplified, another album with an intellectual rapper showing his, uh, less intellectual side. If one compares these records to works of art like Q-Tip’s The Renaissance or Common’s Resurrection, one is likely to be disappointed. But I find myself enjoying the commercialized albums anyway, if not for their superb production, then for the fact that silly lyrics sound better when a rapper has good flow.
There are a few things that make Universal Mind Control a better album than Amplified. Most obviously, Common has guests who are better than Busta Rhymes and Korn. Cee-Lo’s vocal on “Make My Day” really drives the song; Kanye West, whose rapping I usually don’t care for, is appropriate for “Punch Drunk Love” (West can work if he isn’t trying to be smart); and Martina Topley-Bird is a perfect match for the electronic “Everywhere.”
It is also reassuring that Common doesn’t come off as a newborn hedonist on every track – he certainly does on the majority of the album’s first half (“Make My Day” being the exception). The second half is more lyrically diverse. “Gladiator” is a fun, over-the-top battle song: “Am I loved or feared? / A beast amongst boys / Like Paul I’m revered.” Next is an ode to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, “Changes,” which features this memorable lyric: “I spoke like a child / I wrote like a child / I always smiled, let my mind float like a child / Wishin’ I was smart as these kids are now / All grown up, still wishin’ I’m a child again.” Realizing one’s potential is the theme of “Inhale,” and the energetic “What A World” concerns Common’s philosophy and history as a rapper.
With 10 tracks clocking in at about 40 minutes, Universal Mind Control is tighter than most rap albums, so its better moments are sweeter and its mediocre ones easily forgotten. And while the lyrical content may falter, the production from The Neptunes and Mr. DJ is exciting and creative. One could have a worse introduction to a noteworthy artist, but I can’t speak for Common fans.