August Greene, "August Greene" (Amazon Music)
August Greene is a supergroup in the truest sense of the word.
Oscar-winning rapper-actor Common, Grammy-winning pianist-producer Robert Glasper and masterful drummer-producer Karriem Riggins make up the collective, so it's no surprise that their self-titled debut is an enjoyable listen. (Last year, the trio won an Emmy for writing the song, "Letter to the Free," from the Ava DuVernay documentary, "13th").
The 11-track album is artisan-level hip-hop with a heart of jazz. See: the Samora Pinderhughes-assisted "Black Kennedy," where Glasper and Riggins build an easy vibe, upon which Common muses on life as a "black Kennedy, royalty with black identity." Then luxuriate in the largely lyric-less, but gorgeous, "Aya."
On "Let Go," Common's lyrics pour out like poetry: "Search for the inner-Vatican in me/the temple, the body/I'm mental, I'm godly/somehow I made my mess-ups my hobby." Pinderhughes also appears on the track, and his vocals bring an important depth of emotion to songs throughout the album. The rising composer and pianist could easily be the fourth member of August Greene.
Common's dexterity is a beautiful thing, and so is the personal reflection he puts on display. Like on "Fly Away," where he nods to failed relationships with "an actress, a singer, and a tennis player," adding that he's wondered aloud to his aunt and a therapist if he's built for serious relationships.
He raps about a divided America on "The Time" and shares encouraging words — "see through obstacles and be remarkable" — alongside Brandy on "Optimistic," which samples the 1991 hit from instrumental ensemble Sounds of Blackness.
"August Greene" is a thoughtful set from thoughtful dudes who continue their track-record of being and working with music's socially and politically conscious — in this case, each other. Their music is the smooth kind — a mature effort that successfully steers clear of being a bore, perhaps, the biggest pitfall threatening a crew of expert artists who are serious about craft, not flash.