Tag Archives: The Dreamer/TheBeliever

Top 20 Albums Of 2011

No intro needed — with no further ado, here are my top 20 albums of 2011 (in order of release date).

  1. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra (Feb. 18) — Odd Future and Tyler, the Creator burst on the scene this year, but Ocean stole the show with this tape that was so grandeur it would earn him songwriting credits for Beyonce, and placement on Watch The Throne. Witty songwriting, smooth vocals and drum-heavy, 808 production make this a great, easy listen. The standout cut Novacane was one of the best R&B records of the year.
  2. Adele – 21 (Feb. 21) — 2011 was Adele’s year all the way around. Charting and platinum in over a dozen countries, she cut across genres and cultures, as great music should — a testament to her soulful sound. 21 yielded two Billboard number 1 singles, and the critical and commercial acclaim to match. Moving 5 million-plus units, this is the best-selling album since 2004.
  3. Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights, Early Mornings (March 1) — Long respected as one of the most talented vocalists and songwriters in the game, she further cemented her place with this debut solo album on which she produced a majority of the songs and wrote (or co-wrote) all of them. Sensual from beginning to end and it never feels forced.
  4. Raekwon – Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang (March 6)  — For awhile, Chef Rae had the best hip-hop album of the year. Feature-heavy and a tad long, yes, but it comes together quite nicely.
  5. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (March 21) — In the same vein as Frank Ocean, the Weeknd made his initial mark with a debut mixtape and then proceeded to dominate the rest of the year — musically and virally. This is what jumped the whole thing off and he hasn’t looked back since.
  6. Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva (March 28) — KRIT came all-the-way-correct with his first mixtape, but he blew my mind with this one. Just listened to the entire thing all the way through again last week and it sounded just as stellar as the first time. Incredible production, soul samples, and some of the tightest rhymes and flows spit all year.
  7. Fly Union – TGTC (April 26) — How these cats continue to remain slept-on absolutely baffles me (and is proof that a lot of the blogs, labels, A&Rs, etc. aren’t doing their damn job). After a year or two of buzz-building via free “Value Pack” EPs, this was their first full-length project. Their chemistry is great (all in-house production), the content is diverse and relative, and it really doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out right now. Plus the features — namely BJ The Chicago Kid — are on point.
  8. Bad Meets Evil (Eminem & Royce Da 5’9″) – Hell: The Sequel (June 13) — Two godbody MCs and they rip this shit to shreds. Period.
  9. Big Sean – Finally Famous (June 28) — Big Sean shocked me a little bit — this, I thought, was a really good album. Much credit goes to No I.D., who blessed Sean with incredible production, but Sean could have dropped the ball and he didn’t. Three hit records (two number 1s) and counting on here. Real solid work.
  10. Beyonce – 4 (June 28) — Not sure how this is still yet to hit the platinum mark, but that shouldn’t take away from the quality of this album. Beyonce did a great job a channelling earlier eras and influences — there are some really strong records on here, especially Party (one of my favorites of the year) and Love On Top.
  11. Dom Kennedy – From The West Side, With Love II (June 28) — Dom came through with one of the best flowing albums of the year. From Grind’n to Money Don’t Stop to OPM to 2 MPH, and on and on, this is something great to ride to. Real playa shit all the way through.
  12. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80 (July 2) — Sonically, this is the most advanced shit I’ve heard this year. We knew Lamar could rhyme but he really showed his ability construct a complete body of work, a skill many lack today. Conceptually this joint is off the charts. This is really, really dense, but it gets better with each spin. Been listening the day to it since dropped and I’m yet to tire of it. Blew 99 percent of everything else clean out of the water.
  13. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne (August 12) — That people had the nerve to hate on this is pretty outrageous. Higher expectations are the only possible explanation. Even if they didn’t meet them (in the eyes of some), they came close and still landed far beyond most anyone else in hip-hop. No Church In The Wild is the best intro of the year — that joint drives. Otis is the best sample of the year. Niggas In Paris has taken on a life of its own. Murder To Excellence is phenomenal. Great sampling, great production, and sick rhymes….and cats we’re hating.
  14. J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story (Sept. 27) — This has grown on me more than any album this year — especially the back end. There’s still some things I think Cole could have done differently, but there’s no question that the pros heavily outweigh the negatives.
  15. Phonte – Charity Starts At Home (Sept. 27) — Phonte is now near the top of my “most underrated MCs doing it” list. While this was his solo debut, he’s obviously a seasoned vet from his Little Brother and Foreign Exchange days. Not only can he rhyme with the best of them, but his singing is on-point, the production is solid and the content is excellent.
  16. Freddie Gibbs – Cold Day In Hell (Oct. 31) — Gibbs has me all the way on board now, and this is what did it. The flow is razor-sharp.
  17. Pac Div – The Div (Nov. 8) — This is another one that’s continued to get better with time, albeit short. There’s some tracks that really knock on here, but Pac Div really wins when they smoothen things out, and that happens often on The Div. “The system for you to be a part of it”, says Mibbs on High Five. “Declare your independence.” Indeed, they do.
  18. Drake – Take Care (Nov. 15) — People love to hate on Drake, but there’s no denying this album. More than anything, it’s 100 percent cohesive. Whether he’s rapping or singing, the canvas, often provided by 40, is perfect. Hit records are galore, but never forced, and the guest appearances are well-placed.
  19. The Roots – undun (Dec. 13) — It’s between this and Section.80 for hip-hop album of the year, in my opinion. Conceptually, sequentially, lyrically, cinematically, musically, it’s flawless.
  20. Common – The Dreamer, The Believer (Dec. 20) — Common’s bars are cool on this, but nothing we’ve never heard him do before — the sequencing, a fantastic supporting cast (writers, producers, instrumentalists, background vocalists, engineers) and No I.D.’s presence all over are what made this album so good.
  21. Other dope shit: Anthony Hamilton, Back To Love; Tyler, the Creator, Goblin; Jeezy – TM103; TiRon & Ayomari – A Sucker For Pumps; Maybach Music Group – Self Made.
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The Dreamer, The Believer Review + Thoughts On The Drake Controversy:

Leading up to its release, I was one of many who believed that Common’s latest album, The Dreamer, The Believer, on which he would reunite with master-producer No I.D., could be the album of the year — it wasn’t. While it was a strong showing by Common, but not the best effort of his career. Moreover, after weeks of great, great promo — he was all over the web and visiting radio stations — the release, in my opinion, was tainted at the last minute by this Drake business.

Common has grown to become one of hip-hop’s most respected MCs, and a great ambassador for the culture as a visible representative in mainstream pop culture via movies, books, commercials, philanthropy and more. For him to stoop to this level is just wack. By the way, I’m talking about the “Sweet” record and release-day controversy.

Some people are Drake haters and welcomed the diss, others are fans of Common’s earlier work and liken this to that — I don’t care about any of that: Common is wack for this (not wack as a person, or rapper, or anything else. I love him, he’s one of my favorites. But this “beef”, and his role instigating it, is wack).

For starters, the song leaked damn near two months ago on Nov. 2nd. Common has since released a video, spoken on the song and it’s been rumored that it was about Drake. All of a sudden, the day the album drops, he comes out and the song is about Drake. He’s on 106, GCI, Sway In The Morning. The day the album drops? C’mon son. He’s not exactly Thuggalicious either, and

In 1996 he was beefing with Ice Cube. 15 years later he’s beefing with Drake. And for no apparent reason. That’s just stupid, and until further information reveals itself, I’m dubbing it a ploy…all of this was on my mind when I copped the album.

As for actual music, it’s pretty good. Not as great as I’d hoped it would be, but very good considering the lofty expectations. Common’s bars aren’t his best, but the metaphors are abundant as he tries to take on a range of topics, most always successfully. Working exclusively with No I.D. gives this project awesome cohesiveness.

The Dreamer, The Believer hits the ground running with “The Dreamer” which features some inspiring words from the esteemed Maya Angelou. Starting here, we see what makes this album so good: tight rhymes, tailored production, great samples, great sequencing and a stellar supporting cast — much of the Cocaine 80s crew is prevalent throughout. Many of the records feature additional vocals from Makeba Riddick or James Fauntleroy, James Poyser on keys and Steve Wyreman on guitar and bass.

Other standout tracks include the second official single “Blue Sky”, “Sweet” (removed from it’s context, it is one of the best diss records in awhile ), “Lovin I Lost” (which makes great use of a magnificent Impressions sample) and “Celebrate”, a fantastic record that I think will prove to be especially timeless.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dreamer, The Believer, I really did. But I can’t say that there’s anything that really took me over the top on here. Given what No I.D. has been doing over the past three years or so, and the Cocaine 80s collaborations between he and Common, tall expectations were certainly in order. In the end, it’s really strong front-to-back, never hits any low points, but rarely goes through the roof. Maybe I had my hopes too high.


Common – Blue Sky; The Dreamer, The Believer

Producer: No I.D.

Sample: Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky [Link]


Common – Celebrate; The Dreamer, The Believer

Producer: No I.D.

Sample: Kenny Loggins – Celebrate Me Home [Link]


Common – Celebrate; The Dreamer, The Believer

Producer: No I.D.


New Joints I’m Feelin’ At The Time…

This is the fuckin’ groove. Straight up. I love this joint. Got that early 90s hip-hop soul feel. Nice songwriting, great bass line. Her vocals are on point, Cole is smooth… This is the first track I’ve heard of hers, but I’m pretty much sold already.

Elle Varner Feat. J. Cole – Only Wanna Give It To You; Perfectly Imperfect

Producer: Oak & Pop

Common – Blue Sky; The Dreamer, The Believer

Producer: No I.D.

Samples: Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky [Link]

Joey Sap – Hy Expectations; Flosa Nostra