Who’s Controlling Who?
On Universal Mind Control, Common revisits the electro-based beats featured on 2002’s Electric Circus. Soliciting the Neptunes for the majority of the tracks, Common abandons his trademark ’70s soul-sample backdrops for keyboard-driven future-funk. Unfortunately, the aesthetic clash results in an uninspired and unnecessary album that adds nada to his impressive discography and will likely leave his die hard fans scratching their heads. Universal Mind Control is split down the middle between two different personas. The first five songs are devoted to fun-loving, lady-killing Com, and the latter half to conscientious Common. Kicking off the album with a Planet Rock-inspired bang, “Universal Mind Control” is easily Common’s best dance track to date and and will no doubt inspire “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”-style dance floor battles in clubs across the world.
However, the rest of the first half marks a musical and lyrical low point for Common. On “Announcement,” he successfully debases the spiritual devotion to hip-hop he’s created a career out of:
“I still love H.E.R., she be needin’ the dick
When it come to hip-hop, it’s just me and my bitch”
Later in the song, Common continues the forced ladies man act he introduced on “Suga 4 Sex”:
“Broads say, ‘Are you a philosopher?’
Yeah, yeah I’ll philosophy right on top of ya”
The first song on side two, “Gladiator,” is a fiery battle track that reintroduces Common as a swaggering, elite MC. The next two songs, “Changes” and “Inhale,” continue the deviation from side one’s vapidity and should momentarily placate his fan base. Unfortunately, the good times come to a grinding halt on “What a World,” where Common phones in an ’80s-influenced flow over a terrible dance-rock track.
The appeal of Common’s previous work is the passion with which he sets out to do what he does best: act as an intelligent, spiritual guide in a world full of ignorant, misogynistic rappers. But on Universal Mind Control, Common seems to have lost his moral compass, turning the lyrical dial to dumb in an effort to match the sexy-by-numbers sterility of the album’s beats.