Common Be

[Geffen; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: conscious hip-hop, cafe rap, college rap
Others: Kanye West, Slum Village, The Roots

Common has strived to find the sound of Chicago's inner city since the beginning of his career, so it only makes sense that he turned to the somewhat-suburban Kanye West for his latest album, Be. Despite their class discrepancies, it proves to be a good match. Kanye's bongos and sped-up vocal samples compliment Jay Dee's (now going by Dilla) jazz and soul-infused production. Regardless of the modernist leanings of Kanye's techniques, the album retains an organic feel that rivals Com's hemp beanie and Erykah Badu's incense.

Apparently free from the shackles and headlock of Erykah's unshaved armpit, Common returns to a more street-oriented focus. Common prefers to cite social injustice and celebrate the inner city rather than expressing love, peace, and nappiness this time. Good news for us all. His sensitivity still lingers on "Love Is...," though. Common lets us know (as the song title and ellipsis foreshadows) what love is -- in case we were confused. The chirping birds in the background really stress the sentimental message.

"Go," the next single from the album, which features John Mayer, is a collaboration gone horribly wrong. Who coupled these guys together, anyway -- Dave Chappelle? I find it hard to believe they couldn't think up a better chorus than John Mayer breathily singing "go" over and over. Meanwhile, Kanye channels Puff Daddy's "uh huh, yeah's" and replaces them with his own slogan of "go, go, go." Genius. And the current hip-hop trend of allowing the sample chorus vocal to finish the rapper's lines has become nothing short of irritating (see also: Alchemist's "Hold You Down," The Game's "Dreams," and Fabolous' "Breathe"). The use of this method results in one of the album's weakest moments.

Be is sure to rouse the typical Common discussions concerning his contradictory statements and actions; everything from AIDS Awareness television ads being admirable to the inexcusable Coke commercials with Mya. Then there will of course be the discussion concerning his ability to stay on beat for the duration of a verse. The tail end of the album, starting with the impressive "Chi-City," should silence some of these debates. As Common declares in the aforementioned song: "You spit hot garbage son of Sanford." Lord knows what it means, but he sure says it with conviction. Be is a solid album -- a return-to-form for Common, erasing the bitter memory of the attempted-eclecticism of Electric Circus and harking back to the enjoyable and centered Like Water For Chocolate.

Oh yeah, before I forget -- Common needs to stop referencing The Matrix, immediately.

1. Be
2. The Corner
3. Go!
4. Faithful
5. Testify
6. Love Is...
7. Chi-City
8. The Food
9. Real People
10. They Say
11. It's Your World

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