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The Theme of Neighborhood Struggles and Violence as Depicted in Common's Album Nobody Smiling

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The fist track on Common’s album, Nobody’s smiling, is a strong written testament to the inner city: Neighborhoods. He begins his album by talking about part of his struggles in the neighborhood he grew up in. The community he describes resonates with many other inner city kids, who live through the same struggles every day. This neighborhood is from “the other side of town, out of bounds to anybody who don’t live around.” Which implies that if you do not live there already, there is no reason you should want to live there. It is an area that has been held down by many, and a place where the minority is pushed. The life he is accustomed to is one of hopelessness, despair, and filled with drugs and hustlers. He says “the hustles was the taste makers, and trend setters, they the ones that fed us hopin’ that feds don’t get us.”

In this lifestyle, the feds are the main concern. There is no way out of what they have, no way to move to a better life, so the only thing to turn to is hustling, and selling drugs. The blame goes towards one person. With the increased penalties for using or possessing drugs brought on by the Reagen area and continued into the Bush administration, life on the streets turned into life in jail. Common puts this directly onto Bush “The era of Reagan, the terror of Bush. Crack babies, momma’s a push, we were the products of Bush.”

Common concludes his song with a note of violence in the city. Living in this neighborhood not only consists of drug dealing, and an ever-pressing threat of a jail sentence, but also unstoppable violence. “Can’t nobody stop the violence, why my city keep lyin’? Niggas throw up peace signs but everybody keep dying.” He feels as if there is nothing that can be done to pull them out of the violence, and that there is no help from the outside, so the community just keeps detraining. If this wasn’t enough to keep people down, Common also talks about the struggles of racism. With “feds building cases” and “judges who racist and full of hatred” there is just no winning in this community

The title track off of Commons album Nobody’s smiling is a very somber song about the violence of the inner city. Throughout the song he raps about the police violence that he has experienced in downtown Chicago. He refers to the special forces coming to a household and the people shooting back, something that happens often: “on the deck when the ops come, pop some, ops run. This ain’t a game nigga, ain’t no options.” The violence is so common that its just another every day occurrence when you live this type of life, but he does it for a reason. Common says “I do it for Hadiya and Trayvon Martin.” He believes that he is fighting for justice. The second half of the song takes a clear turn directly towards gang violence. The lines “Five versus six, star wars. No stickers, real bullet holes in car doors. Out of ten people that was shot, 7 ate 9’s two trey 8’s and one 45” refers to the bloods vs crips and the types of ammunition used to kill his crew. Thus furthering the violence between the city and the people, and amongst the people themselves. Common’s main point in this rap is that living this lifestyle is dangerous. From all sides there is the imminent threat of death, but it is a death that is not in vein, it is for the Treyvon Martins and Hadiya’s. He ends this song by calling out on “celebrities” from Chicago. He calls out all celebrities that grew up in this life style that are not spreading their wealth and helping the people that raised them. He says, “are these celebrities to shy to be loyal to the town? I take my publishing check and spread my royalties around.” This is a direct attack on hip-hops duty as a culture. Common is wrestling with the idea that hip-hop should not forget about their roots, and should give back to the community, or enlighten them after they have achieved wealth and fame. In Common’s point of view, it is their duty, and the celebrities that do not are dissing their own town.

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