As a guest appearance on Kanye West’s “Get Em High,” Common flows with anguish, “How could I ever let your words effect me? / They say hip-hop is dead / I’m here to resurrect me.” Now with his latest album, Be, Common resuscitates himself with poetic rhymes and narrative deliveries weaved together by West’s soulful samplings.
Like Jay-Z’s Black Album, Common’s Be is structured in a minimal setting to provide audiences an intimate listening experience. The arrangements are subtle but carry enough strength to hold the album together. From “The Corner” to “The Food,” every song has a story to tell, and Common tells it like it is: “The corner where struggle and greed fight / We write songs about wrong cause it’s hard to see right / Look to the sky hoping it will bleed light / Reality’s a bitch and I heard that she bites.”
Misogynist rappers, such as 50 Cent, Eminem and Cam’ron, often refer to women as bitches and hoes. Common envisions women as something else, “What if god was a her?” Even after breaking up with his girlfriend, Erykah Badu, Common never trashes her like what Em does to Kim and 50 does to Vivica. He is the man to respect, and Jay-Z did that on his song, “Moment of Clarity.” To show Jay the same respect, Common responses with, “My man retired, I ma take over” on “Chi-City.”
Common is a lyricist and he uses his wordplay to elevate the art of storytelling. Scored by West’s lively arrangement, Common built an approachable scene on “Testify” with his cinematic-driven concept. Other than two tracks come from DILLA’s production, West is responsible for all of the beats, and his finest work is the jazz-inflected groove on “Real People.” Because the horn riff is so intoxicating, trying to follow the lyrics is nearly impossible. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Common scats to the arrangement with his scratchy voice?
Be is undeniably a success and almost, but not quite, perfect. The flaws are in some of the hooks. For instance, the repetitive chorus of “Go!” is annoying, and all John Mayer brings to the track is the echoing of “go.” To rhyme with the word “kids,” West raps over the hook, “So I had to did, what I have to did” on “The Food.” Real clever, Kanye. Despite the nursery choruses, Be – be simple, be free and be yourself – is a true hip-hop work of art.