Common’s problem has never been his ability as an MC. The Chicago rapper’s been one of the smartest and most agile rhymers of the last decade-plus. His problem has been that he’s not much fun, and even a bit self-righteous, which means we all ought to be celebrating his new collaboration with the Neptunes, who provide some of their sleekest and sharpest production work in recent years to Common’s new album.
But Common’s overshadowed by the production on Universal Mind Control, and when he does have presence, there’s a disconnect between the Common we know—the guy who paid tribute to Fela Kuti on Like Water for Chocolate and confronted homophobia on Electric Circus—and the Common here, who seems content to spit out dancefloor-friendly booty anthems. I don’t mind the effort; in fact, I appreciate Common reaching out to a wider audience and incorporating mainstream production. It’s just that he’s not very good at it. He doesn’t have the charisma for crossover sex jams, and the Neptunes’ good work on Universal Mind Control suffers for it.