In celebration of the album’s 15th anniversary, we dug up facts about the creation of Common’s sixth studio album Be.
After a lukewarm response to the experimental and eclectic Electric Circus, Common went back to the raw essence of MCing that made him one of the most renowned rap artists in the game. Be is a composite of adroit lyricism, insightful storytelling, an Afro-Centric ethos. But, just as importantly, the album features a soulful sonic backdrop provided by Kanye West and J. Dilla.
From the gorgeous title track intro to the diverse singles — the hard-hitting “The Corner;” the breezy “Go!;” and the dramatic “Testify,” — Be is a lean, spotless album. There were no skips, with deep cuts like “They Say,” “Faithful,” “Love is,” and “Chi-City” rounding out one of the best rap albums of the 2000s.
In celebration of its 15th anniversary, we dug up some facts about the creation of Common’s masterful comeback Be. Here are 10 facts you may not have known about Be.
Be was Common’s First Album After Breaking Up With Erykah Badu
When Common began writing Be, every area of his life was changing. The almighty Soulquarian collective would go on to work on separate projects after Electric Circus, his previous album, was not as highly regarded as his previous works. Of all the changes that Common was experiencing, his public break up with Neo soul-songstress Erykah Badu may have been the biggest of all. The two dated for several years and one of Common’s most successful singles, “The Light,” was dedicated to Badu. And on “Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)” the duo won a Grammy. But when the couple called it quits, it definitely took a toll on Common.
In an interview with Ebony Magazine, Common recalled, “Some of the hardest work I’ve done on myself has been after breakups. With Erykah Badu, that was my first love where you’re just open and floating. When we split, I was 27 or 28. I was in a haze, just going through the motions. It was hard to eat. It wasn’t her fault, the relationship just didn’t go forward.”
Be Does Not Stand For “Before Erykah.”
There was a rumor that Common titled the album Be with a hidden, subliminal message. It was alleged that Be actually stood for “Before Erykah.”
When AllHipHop asked if that’s what Be stood for, Common replied, “Naw. The album is entitled Be because the hardest thing to do is to be yourself, although many think it’s the easiest it’s really not. Being is just to exist, you don’t have to try hard to do anything because God gave us each an individual and unique characteristic that is the core of who we are. So Be is just about that, being whoever you are, wherever you are.”
Be Was Recorded At The Same Time As Late Registration.
On his previous albums, Common worked with No I.D —who produced the majority of his first three albums — DJ Premier, J.Dilla, Questlove, James Poyser, and D’Angelo. But on Be, Common linked up with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West who was skyrocketing into superstardom. Amazingly, Kanye was executive producing Be while working on his own sophomore album, Late Registration.
Kanye was actually comparing Late Registration to Be. Throughout the process, Kanye kept a paper with songs from each album, making sure Late Registration could hang with Be. (In fact, “My Way Home” was originally supposed to be on Be.)
The tactics of Mr. West helped to deliver two of the defining albums of the 2000s.
Be Was The First Hip-Hop Release From GOOD Music.
After the multi-platinum success of Kanye’s The College Dropout, he leveraged his newfound status to start his own label Good Music (Getting Out Our Dreams) in 2004. The first release was Get Lifted, the debut album by John Legend. The second was Common’s Be.
The timing couldn’t be better for Common who was transitioning from his old label.”Not only do I love Kanye creatively and as a brother, but we doing business with a vision” Common said. “It was clear from Common’s comments that this vision meant sacrificing for success. “I will be forever loyal to Kanye because I was in between labels when we started Be, and he produced the whole thing before he ever got a check.”
Common more than held up his end of the bargain with Be which garnered four Grammy nominations and eventually went Gold.
“The Food” Was Originally Meant For Another Artist
The first track Kanye produced for Be, “The Food,” was an instant classic. While Common seemed tailor-made for the track, it was cooked up by Ye for another MC.
Common gave some insider info about how “The Food” came together on The Bill Simmons Podcast. He said, “That was the first song we did together, that he produced. That beat was actually a piece of music he was making for somebody else and I got to the studio, and I was like, ‘Yo this is dope.’ He was like, ‘Yo you want this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Hurry up and take it and leave,’ the person was coming to the studio. I took it and wrote to it and we created that song and I recorded it in the studio.”
Be Received a Perfect Rating From XXL
Right out of the gate, Be was a commercial success. In the first week of its release, Be debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200, and sold 185,000 copies in the United States alone. The album is Common’s second album to sell over 500,000 copies. Be also proved to be an undeniable classic with XXL Magazine, getting a perfect XXL score.
Common remembered, “From the first note that the bass player Derrick Hodge played on the beginning of Be and just hearing the end, the mixes and the mastered version of it along with the album cover, I felt like it was the first time I immediately felt like I can say, “Man… This is a classic.” When XXL gave it a classic rating I was waiting on it, I ain’t gonna lie. [Laughs] I remember me and Kanye both were excited about that because you know we fans of hip-hop and we love the music and you want to make an album that’s great. Especially me and Kanye, we want to make something that goes down as a classic.”
The Beat For The Game’s “Wouldn’t Get Far” Was Turned Down By Common
With any album, some tracks don’t make the cut and some others get passed over. This was the case for Common. He turned down the track for what would eventually become The Game’s “Wouldn’t Get Far.”
The track samples Creative Source’s “I’d Find You Anywhere,” and a sample from “Long Red (Live)” by Mountain, which Kanye often used. Kanye West explained that the track was originally made for Common, then he offered it to The Game after Common passed on it. According to Kanye, if The Game had turned it down, Kanye had plans to keep for himself.
“Game had texted me like, ‘Yo, what’s up? I’m finishing the album,” West told MTV. “And you know how [producers usually] send, like, 12 beats? I sent the one beat and said, ‘I got this one for you. This is it, right here.’ If he had passed on it, I would’ve used it myself, but I’m happy that Game went ahead and did it.”
John Mayer Appeared On “GO!” After An Impromptu Jam-Session.
When you are in a creative zone, inspiration can come from anyplace. Case and point, Common’s “Go!” was created after Common was hanging out with Kanye and John Mayer at the movies.
“Me, Kanye and John Mayer went to go see the movie Ray and then after Ray we just went to the studio” Common said. “John was sitting around and Kanye was making a lot of beats, kind of like showing out in front of us. [Laughs] And then it was certain songs that John would sing on. But when”Go!” came up, Kanye came up with the “On the count of three” lyric, and then John was just started singing “Go!” and he was like, “Go lay down something.”
“Go!” went on to become the second single from Be and one of Common’s most well-known jams.
Be Featured Some Of J Dilla’s Final Work Before His Death
When it came to production, J Dilla was a legend among mortals. His brilliant unorthodoxy, a penchant for obscure samples, and slapping drums gained him a reputation as one of the greatest beat-makers in the history of hip-hop. Tragically, hip-hop lost one of its brightest stars when Dilla passed away on February 10, 2006, in Los Angeles, California, after battling with a rare illness. Be was one of the final projects that Dilla worked on before his death.
Common and Dilla were both vital members of the Soulquarians. Dilla produced the majority of Common’s remarkable album Like Water For Chocolate and also Electric Circus. Although Kanye produced 11 out of 13 tracks on Be, J Dilla’s contributions captured the GOD producer at his best. With the stunning “Love Is…” and the beautiful album closer “It’s Your World (Part 1 & 2),” Dilla’s legacy is cemented as one of the GOAT producers.
At the tail end of his life, Common and Dilla even lived together.“It was incredible to wake up and hear Dilla beats,” Common told us last year.
The Last Poets’ performance on “The Corner” was their debut on an official hip-hop Album.
The Last Poets are a collection of poets and musicians from Harlem who rose to prominence during the African-American civil rights movement, writing and performing their brand of Black nationalism. The Last Poet’s name was gleaned from a poem by the South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who espoused a belief that he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over. Along with the polemical spoken word of Gil Scott Heron and the music of James Brown, The Last Poets helped to lay the groundwork for Hip Hop music. Jason Ankeny argued, “With their politically charged raps, taut rhythms, and dedication to raising African-American consciousness, the Last Poets almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the emergence of hip-hop.”
While the Poets released their own albums, The Last Poets made their first appearance on a rap song assisting on Common’s epic first single “The Corner.” It took this long, despite the fact that they have been sampled in dozens of rap songs.
Rashad Grove is a writer from NJ whose work has appeared on BET, Billboard, MTV News, Okayplayer, High Snobiety, Medium, Revolt TV, The Source Magazine, and others. You can follow him at @thegroveness for all of his greatness.