Common’s Universal Mind Control is the consequence of one of hip-hop’s truly intellectual minds listening to one too many Will Smith records. Designed for the summer but released in December 2008, Common’s eighth record is an odd compilation of Neptunes-produced cuts.
Common’s gift for delivery is still present, although he appears to have checked his mind at the door on more than one occasion. He’s put the street truth-seeker shtick on the sidelines in favor of trunk-rattling romps couched in poetic simplicity, monotonous sexual references, and attempts at hardcore thug shit that just sound forced.
There is nothing intrinsically ghastly about wanting to change pace, of course. Common’s played at this type of thing before with the electro-pop tinged Electric Circus in 2002. That record was ambitious and it flowed with neo-soul, electronica, pop, and rock tinges. Best of all, though, Common played to his strengths, constructing tracks with a sense of openness to match the musical exploration.
With Universal Mind Control, Common offers up some nuggets of wisdom but mostly relies on mechanical club bangers.
The opening title cut is an electronica-tinged splash of old school rhymes and beats. The Neptunes production is fresh, meshing Common’s vocals over a setting that sounds an awful lot like something from The Knife. Although the chorus is pretty feeble, “Universal Mind Control (UMC)” is rather good.
Kanye West joins Common on “Punch Drunk Love,” a cut that wholly wastes both talents in a sea of gratuitous and dull drivel. The beat is awful, the twittering electronics are repugnant, and the lyrics are simply dense. “My ungh is in your body, my ungh is in your mind,” Common says over the lazy background.
Fortuitously, it doesn’t get much worse, but “Announcement” threatens the horrible “Punch Drunk Love” with its frivolous flow. Starting the cut out by declaring, “I’m gonna take you to the tip top, baby,” Common unlocks a strand of lyrics that talks about getting his “mama a mink” and bragging about defeating the haters.