On his eighth album, Common turns back the hip-hop clockto the days of electro, teaming up with Pharrell Williams, who comes off like a modern-day version of mid-’80s studio whizzes Mantronix. On the frantic, Roland 808charged title track, the Windy CityMC plays the streetwise machine man, with lyrics(“Chicks exotic, mix hypnotic / Superhero boy, I’m bionic”) that read like cut-ups of novels by cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson.
The rockin’-no-stoppin’ continues on the Kanye Westguesting “Punch Love,” which conjures futuristic gator-shoed players, and the compelling Prince-ness of “Sex for Suga.” Though there’s one serious misstep — the pro-Obama ditty “Changes,” which mimics ’60s psychedelia and is about as soulful as Donovan’s greatest hits — Common dazzles with the back-to-the-future motif on “What a World,” an homage to the Bernard Edwards bass line that was the funky foundation for Chic’s “Good Times,” Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” The track vibrantly mashes up all three songs to create a singular gem.
While we’re used to Common in the role of poetic prophet or self-righteous rhyme slayer, Universal Mind Control is primarily a rhythmic celebration, paying tribute to Afrika Bambaataa and Jonzun Crew jams. Quixotically, in this heated political year, he’s reserved his strongest endorsement for the Cyborg Party.