Common’s latest is a loungy meditation on love and its many forms. It is at turns hopeful and naive.
Let Loveis clean, edifying rap that is as trusting as it is noble. The album, whichCommonhas dubbed a companion to his new memoir,Let Love Have the Last Word, released earlier this year, is a meditation on love and its many forms—familial, romantic, five-pillars love (aka a love of hip-hop), self-love, the love of God, and an unconditional love he’d like to foster among all humans. Common would like to use his platformto change the world, but he’d settle for giving pep talks to anyone listening. “I’m in a phase, all I see is victory/You on that wave, then come and get with me,” the Chi-town guru raps on opener “Good Morning Love,” and while it’s unclear where exactly he’d like to lead us, his hope can be galvanizing.
Produced with a trio of jazz specialists—percussionistKarriem Riggins(who last collaborated with Common alongsideRobert Glasperon 2018’sAugust Greene), composer and pianist Samora Pinderhughes, and upright bassist Burniss Earl Travis II—Common’sLet Loveoften sounds more like lounge music than rap music. It suits him. The live instrumentation, mostly warm keyboard chords and soft pattering drums, build mellow, subtle grooves that support both his vibe and demeanor. From the jam-heavy energy of “Leaders (Crib Love)” to the more muted “Show Me That You Love Me” withJill Scott, these songs feel understated, constant, and tender, often in service of firsthand revelations. Where the album falters is when it stops illustrating how love can be applicable in our everyday lives and starts looking at the entire world through rose-colored glasses. It isn’t that he’s too optimistic; it’s that his optimism isn’t pragmatic. It’s the sort of naivety thatoverlookshowloving A.I.could easily lead toSkynet.
Common transcended conscious rap and evolved into virtuous rap in the wake of his hollow Oscar-winningSelmacollaboration with John Legend, “Glory,” becoming a living, breathing social justice hashtag in the process. The fury and force that fueled 2016’sBlack America Againhave dissipated. IfAugust Greenewas a call-to-arms for unity,Let Loveis simply a plea for compassion. Occasionally, Common loses the plot and gets so theoretical that real love isn’t at the center of his verses anymore. After a bit of word salad on “Hercules,” he raps, “Slow down, we can hold down/The fort of profound, thoughts that go ’round/The world is your town, it’s my town/It’s the new wave, we on high ground.” The concepts can become so abstract that they lose all meaning entirely. Across the album, his raps sometimes sound as if they were generated by an algorithm from an inspirational quote word cloud. Take this one: “Read me truth, lead me truth/The birth of freedom can’t be induced.” He wants so badly to make love a doctrine here, but love is a feeling, not an idea.
Common finds the most success exhibiting the ways love has played a role in his own life. On “Memories of Home,” he reflects on the interactions that shaped him, bravely opening up about being molested as a child and how love helped him heal. “What’s a kid supposed to do?/When they goin’ through, what I was goin’ through,” he asks before having an epiphany: “Emotions meltin’, I began to release it/Things you can’t change, you could come to peace with.”Dillacut “HER Love,” a spiritual sequel to his seminalResurrectioncut “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” finds Common falling for rap once again. It’s as if he’s renewing his vows. He raps to hip-hop as if it were a woman, exuding true love. There’s a wholeheartedness to its cornball enthusiasm that only he could pull off.
Common is still an impressive rapper, though a bit more simplistic now than in the past. As he’s become more positive, his raps play it a bit safer. He leans into his signature flows like a crutch but he remains graceful. He can still puzzle out wordplay (“Tryna feed your fam, get Fed time”) and stack phonetic sounds with the best of them. He can still unravel an intricate thought with a string of words so elegant that listening demands empathy. Then there are the times where he’ll compare himself to a metaphorical cake just to preserve the structural integrity of his internal rhyme schemes. Sometimes it really does seem like he’s rapping to instill love, sometimes he’s rapping for rap’s sake, and those lines get smudged at times, but more often than not he’s methodical. It is in the moments where his precision underscores his affection thatLet Lovetruly conquers.