When I was high school we used to hood ride. No, not that hood, like on a car. We’d fly...
DJBooth Album Review
In a land of hip-hop teenagers Common is a full grown man. It’s been 15 years since he first asked to borrow a dollar and the lyrical heavyweight is still punchin' hard. His new album Finding Forever finds Common in familiar territory; riding the razor thin line between brilliantly innovative music and overly conceptual experiments. The boundary-pushing album often has more in common (sorry, I had to get in at least one pun) with Stevie Wonder than Biggie with Common relying on subdued jazz melodies and muted percussion to set the stage for his intricate rhymes. Speaking of which, I refuse to use the term “conscious rapper,” any more. Conscious means “capable of thought,” isn’t that the least we should expect from a MC? If you’re an unconscious rapper you’d better be asleep or dead. Common’s heart is beating as strong as ever.
Calling Finding Forever a Common album is only half the story, it’s truly a collaborative effort. Kanye West produced nearly the entire album and while his trademark high pitch vocal samples remain, his beats have a distinctly live instrumentation feel here. Forever Begins weaves several piano melodies with a searching chorus that serves as the album’s manifesto. Topping out at nearly fifteen minutes and featuring a spoken word performance by Lonnie Lynn, it’s the kind of musical and spiritual exploration that could have come off a Roots album.
For fans disappointed by the experimentation of Electric Circus don’t worry, this is still a hip-hop album. The People is Common at his best, spitting soulful verses over a Premier-esque beat from Kanye that stays strong and drops knowledge without preaching. Jay-Z can’t leave rap alone because “the game need me,” Common because “the streets need me.” One word, big difference.
While the beat to Start The Show is a musically adventurous work filled with electronic samples and harps, lyrically Common’s at his hardest. His line “with 12 monkeys on stage it’s hard to tell who’s a gorilla/you was better as a drug dealer” has spawned endless speculation about who he’s specifically dissing (my money’s on 50), but it really doesn’t matter. The point is that he can battle rap with the best of them. Strength and intelligence don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Common’s storytelling raps are also in fine form, as evidenced on Drivin Me Wild, a track that tells the story of a materialistic girl, a rap thug wanna-be, and a feuding couple, with a grippingly narrative flow. Time certainly hasn’t slowed Common’s sex drive and the will.i.am produced track I Want You examines a lost relationship, Badu anyone? The track’s decent, but it spends too much time in the clouds without ever landing. Maybe it’s because Lily Allen sings the hook. No disrespect to Ms. Allen, but she’s the best female singer you could get? Really? If you really need some soul skip ahead to So Far To Go, a sexually charged track produced by J Dilla (r.i.p.) and the impossibly smooth D’Angelo. Now that’s how it’s done.
If anything Finding Forever falls just short of truly classic territory, a little head-nodding energy would have gone a long way. To use an analogy we can all relate to, it’s like sex; slow love making is great, but you need a little back scratching to make it truly incredible. Handcuffs aside, this is an album that will still hit ten years from now. Common hasn’t found forever, but he’s certainly found more than a lifetime, and that’s as much as we could hope for.
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 07/30/07
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"I Have a Dream ft. Will.I.Am" (2006)
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