At the end of last year, Common released A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1 — an album that spoke to the lingering underbelly of societal unrest in its purest form. Common spoke in tangents about blackness, courage, and a consistent struggle to make a voice heard. Though I genuinely liked it, it was a slight modernization of his opus from the 2010s, Black America Again. It retreads familiar territory, but Common keeps it fresh with his lyricism while the production focuses on being music for protest. It also benefits from having a renowned drummer and producer, Karriem Riggins, behind the machine. Karriem had co-producers on Pt. 1, and on Pt. 2, he rides solo creating more culturally vibrant production reflecting the sound of a revolution drawn within Common’s mind.
In last years reviews of A Beautiful Revolution Part 1, I said:
A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 works on many levels and delivers half of what seems to be an eventually great side B. Common doesn’t sugarcoat his emotions in his delivery and lyricism, leaving messages of courageousness, self-love, and empowerment.
Part 2 makes the word seem a past doubt, and instead, is seen as a new sentence. A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 works on many levels and delivers what is a better Part 2. Part 2’s sound is far from the nuanced soul and jazz production of the first. It contains more retroactive and cultural influence from the string arrangements and elevated percussion pattern — a consistent sonic theme throughout.
Reflecting on the focused and poetic nature of Common continues to show us that this is when he is at his best. Like 2016’s Black America Again and 2005’s Be, Common finding the middle ground between nuanced connectivity and creating commentary has outshined any notion that he may come across as preachy. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with A Beautiful Revolution, as it works around becoming a backdrop for the moment instead of forcing in-your-face dialogue.
Like Part 1, there is an open and ending narration by spoken word artist Jessica Care Moore, who delivers themes and visceral imagery of familial connectivity and an understanding of their roots. In part — it speaks on a bigger picture, where one uses this to form a path toward a better future. So while Part 1 focuses on music that embodies a movement with sound reflecting unity, and Part 2 speaks on the bright future we see little by little, as the improvements show — subtly.
However, what hit me immediately was the production of the album. After years of work from Common, there is an expectancy to the quality of his lyricism. And Common sounds as fresh as usual. He doesn’t cut corners as he has tried various styles, with misses coming from attempting a new identity — Electric Circus and Universal Mind Control: the two albums where Common experiments with electronic hip-hop to lesser effect. The percussion fluctuates from African rhythm to colorful soul, which sees Common flowing with auspicious consistency. It’s refreshing and adds new layers to the music that was slightly missing in Part 1.
A Beautiful Revolution Part 2 flourishes with dynamic rhyme schemes and steadfast bravado in Common’s emotional deliveries. We hear Common hopeful, and we hear Common lamenting the roots planted by ancestors and the visions they saw for them today. It creates parallels through assumptions and history, as Common speaks on his firmness and confidence to challenge the world when it challenges him. In the opening — full hip-hop song — “A Beautiful Chicago Kid,” Common raps: Family came together like a partridge/Ain’t playin’ ya game, I got my own cartridge/Only playin’ I do is with Lynn Nottage/I found silence sittin’ in my own cottage — it reflects the nature of the nuances of life, maintaining his family’s history while creating his own at the place it once began — his family home.
Common is our avatar, expressing the music through his perspectives. He finds parallels between life now and how it’s affected by the common issues in the world today, like racism and the post-effects of the judicial system after an event goes awry. It’s why throughout A Beautiful Revolution Part 2, Common reflects varying views on his version of a brighter future, like on the songs “Majesty(Where We Go From Here)” and “Imagine.” Common’s visions split; on “Majesty,” where he tells his soulmate about a prosperous future together.
On “Imagine,” Common reflects on an ideal utopia. He delivers whimsical ideas, which in retrospect, are not so outlandish. Some of these include ones like:
“Imagine layers in a game where we all players/No more stargazing or police car chasing/Imagine life that bring us Lauryn Hill-type of singers.”
“Imagine having a woman like Betty Shabazz/Steady with class, ready to blast ’til the chariots pass.”
It starts to resemble the underlying systematic racism that has been problematic without being overly preachy. Common makes anecdotes that resemble an alternative perspective than what we have today — Betty Shabazz, for example, had a semi-tarnished image due to her marriage and prominence during the Civil Rights Movement, especially as the wife of Malcolm X.
Other times, Common finds himself growing and reaching high, despite the fuck ups along the way. In “Saving Grace,” Common finds himself being lifted through his mistakes and into an inner plane where he feels saved. It flummoxes Common that, beyond his life, it is similar to others who deal with similar issues. He reflects this in beautiful-rhythmic symmetry: My heart is why the parts all died, I can’t deny/I realize your eternal eyes see through my disguise/These falls, what do they symbolize?/I know that you made me to rise/I need pain to feel alive when racism still alive. It’s like Common saying it’s hard to have one without the other — a proponent in Common’s understanding of a brighter future.
A Beautiful Revolution Part 2 is more than the bare bones on the surface. It builds upon the sound of the first, shifting its direction to add layers of depth and perspective. The first has songs that have a groove to return to, but the second transfixes you with the lyricism and intricate production — the grooves are an afterthought as it leaves you in awe. The two make up for the draining and foreboding Let Love.