by Sean Smith
This week Chicago emcee Common released his tenth studio album Nobody’s Smiling. Common’s inspiration for his latest offering comes from seeing his native Chicago struggle with high crime rates and gang violence. The album’s title, Nobody’s Smiling, accurately reflects the tone seen in many of the sobering headlines coming out of the Windy City. Just this past weekend alone 47 people were shot in the city, five fatally.
In an interview with Forbes magazine recently, Common talked about why his new album focuses on Chicago. “We talk a lot about what’s going on in the world and we [are] all human beings so of course we care about that, but man this is happening where I grew up. You know people [are] getting killed blocks from where the President lived. It’s easy for me to be like ‘I’m going to go help the world’, but first I gotta help my own household.” Nobody’s Smiling is a bit darker in its overall tone compared to Common’s more recent work. However, that is the point of the album. To lend a voice to the sobering reality of what is going on in the streets of Chicago.
It’s inspiring to see Common, a successful rapper and actor, maintain such an affinity and allegiance to his hometown. When I first read about how Chicago served as the inspiration behind Common’s tenth studio album I was reminded of song by fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, “Homecoming.” The song is an ode to Chicago, and is worth remembering this week in light of Common’s latest Windy City inspired album.
“Homecoming” was the fifth and final single released off of Kanye West’s 2007 album Graduation. The single was only met with moderate commercial success, for Kanye West’s standards anyway. “Homecoming” would only reach the #69 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song’s lyrics utilize an extended metaphor where Kanye uses a childhood love interest named “Windy” to represent Chicago. This concept seems to be borrowed from his fellow Chicagoan and friend Common’s 1994 single “I Used to Love H.E.R.” On that song Common uses a love interest metaphor to speak about his relationship with hip hop music. On “Homecoming” Kanye West’s opening and closing lyrics are almost identical to those of Common’s on “I Used to Love H.E.R..” Perhaps serving as a nod of respect to his good friend. “Homecoming” also features the guest vocals of Colplay frontman Christ Martin who sings the chorus. However, he was not the first guest artist to sing a hook for the song.
While “Homecoming” was not officially released by Kanye West until 2008, the song was originally featured on the 2003 Kanye West mixtape Get Well Soon…. This original version of “Homecoming” was called “Home,” and the chorus was sung by John Legend. The chorus voiced by John Legend on “Home” is different than the one sung by Chris Martin on “Homecoming.” The beat used on the two versions are different as well. The earlier version of “Homecoming” with Kanye and John Legend was also featured on the advanced copy of Kanye West’s debut album The College Dropout. However, after the early version of The College Dropout was leaked, Kanye decided to revamp the album and in the process he removed some tracks from the album to include “Home.” If you haven’t heard the original version of “Homecoming” featuring John Legend you should check it out in the related media below. If you are a fan of Kanye’s early work, you’ll enjoy it as much as the latter officially released version.
So in honor of Common’s latest album Nobody’s Smiling, which is inspired by the struggles currently facing his native Chicago, today we remember an ode to the city by Kanye West with “Homecoming.” Enjoy!
Kanye West Featuring Chris Martin
Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records