What? Originally slated for a June release under the title Invincible Summer, Common's eighth studio album, renamed Universal Mind Control, drops today, six months late but with no less of a feel-good summer vibe. Using producers the Neptunes' '80s-inspired club beats, Common's new set adds a new dimension to his rap repertoire, especially with the whispers, handclaps, and buzzing, dirty synth of "Sex 4 Sugar." But Common's not hosting this party alone -- Kanye helps get the dance floor moving on "Punch Drunk Love (The Eye)" and Cee-Lo's smooth vocals keep the hook cool on lust-infused pop number "Make My Day." Though fans of Common's more serious social commentary may be thrown off by all this summer-of-love business, they'll find plenty to enjoy in Obama-ode "Changes," and the horn-infused spectacle of "Gladiator," in which Common likens himself to both Ziggy Stardust and Nelson Mandela while revealing his true identity: "A radical who don't fit the game."
Who? The man born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. began performing with rap trio C.D.R. while still attending high school on Chicago's south side. The group opened for N.W.A. and Big Daddy Kane, but Lynn soon went solo under the name Common Sense with his 1992 debut Can I Borrow A Dollar? and its '94 follow-up Resurrection. The latter drew attention with "I Used to Love H.E.R.," a jazzy, controversial track which used a romantic metaphor to lament the decline of hip-hop's political power. Since then, Common has worked with music luminaries like Lauryn Hill, Kanye West, and the Soulquarians, dated Erykah Badu and Serena Williams, landed roles in several Hollywood blockbusters, and championed the causes of animal rights, AIDS awareness, and president-elect Barack Obama's Campaign for Change.
Fun Fact: Common is slated to play the flying, force-field-wearing comic book hero Green Lantern in the upcoming film Justice League: Mortal.
Watch: Common, "Universal Mind Control" trailer (:35)