“They say my life is comparable to Christ, the way I sacrificed and resurrected twice. They say the crocheted pants and the sweater was wack, seen ‘The Corner’ and now they say ‘that nigga’s back’.”
No quote better summarizes the role of Be amongst Common’s already strong catalogue of albums. Ever since the song “Soul by the Pound” from his debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, dropped, Common has established himself as the poster child for Chicago hip hop. The exception being Common’s 2002 release, Electric Circus, which was a solid release, yet alienated fans due to its musical experimentation and Common’s changing subject matter.
Common returns to his previous form with his sixth release, Be. Produced entirely by Chicago’s Kanye West and Slum Village alum, Jay-Dilla, the album effectively captures the musical spirit of early- to mid-90s hip hop while Common runs the lyrical gamut.
From the opening track, which blends an ATCQ inspired bassline with a set of Kanye-esque strings, the album maintains a consistent soulfulness throughout its eleven tracks that makes every song unskippable and enjoyable.
Producer J-Dilla’s two contributions fit perfectly amongst the nine Kanye productions. It is Dilla who is responsible for the album’s wonderful conclusion, “It’s Your World”: a horn-heavy track assisted by Bilal’s harmonizing and the traditional closing “rap” by Common’s “Pops”.
Common’s GOOD Music label-mate, John Legend, appears on both “Faithful” and “They Say”. The latter track features the only mediocre verse of the entire album, unsurprisingly by Kanye West. Other notable contributors include The Last Poets, who appear on the street-anthem “The Corner”; and John Mayer’s discreet performance on the ode to sexual fantasies, “Go”.
The highlight of Be is its seventh song, “Chi-City”: a track scattered with horns, record scratching and hard drums with Common in prime battle-rap form. This is truly a side of Common not seen since Resurrection.
The album’s main flaw is its version of “The Food”. The track was first performed by Common and Kanye West on the “The Dave Chappelle Show”. The live performance was soon followed by a release of the song’s studio version (as a 12″ single). Mysteriously, the studio version is absent from the full-length, as we are instead given a poor quality and edited (both in content and length) recording of the live version, which disrupts the flow of the album with audience applause and static popping.
Besides this one stumble, Be is a concise and consistent album. It will surely be seen as one of Common’s best albums, as well as one of the best hip-hop releases in the last five years.