For the last 15 years Common has been a dominant factor in hip hop music. Catapulted into the forefront by his second album 'Resurrection' and its lead single 'I used to love h.e.r.' The track awarded him a hip hop classic due to his clever wordplay interweaving his love for a woman but who he was talking bout was hip hop in its essence and real. Roughly the same age as the Chi-Town emcee I've grown up with him and seen him find his way to the critical acclaim he now has weather it be in music or his newly found forte in acting.
'Be' had its moments but it wasn't as incredible as the critics made out. Before that 'Electric Circus' lost its way under Commons experimental phase and the same could be said for 'Like water for chocolate'. Common needed some direction, he was a versatile emcee who could spit freestyle lyrics and then flip it on his love raps but he wasn't fulfilling his talent. He didn't make bad albums but they suffered somewhere after 'Someday it will all make sense'.
10 years later and 'Finding Forever' begins with a swirling instrumental which is reminiscent of something Stevie Wonder would have included as an intro on one of his songs as it sets the tone fitting perfectly as a build up for 'Start the Show'. A winding string arrangement accompanies a boom bap beat with Kanye announcing 'Now lets start the show, step out of the cold…' as Common takes to the mic the sample dissolves into something completely different for him to weave in and out until the it returns to the hook. Ironically an Album has not had this powerful an intro since 'Be', but where that suffered with peaking too early with an incredible opener things are kept at the same level throughout the rest of 'Finding Forever'.
'The People' carries astonishing production and a soulful hook provided by Dwele. Whats so refreshing about this song is that it doesn't sound like any other hip hop song as Commons delivers a positive message without sounding preachy. Its construction doesn't stick to the standard hip hop format of verse, hook, verse and has so much replay value, 'This is street radio, for unsung heroes / Ridin in the regal, tryin to stay legal / My daughter found Nemo, I found a new primo / 'Ye you know how we do, we do it for the people / And the struggle of the brothers and the folks / With lovers under dope / experiment to discover hopes / Scuffle for notes, the rougher I wrote, times was harder / Went from rocky starter to the voice of a martyr / While white folks focus on dogs and yoga / My people on the low end tryin to ball and get over / Lyrics are like liquor for the fallen soldiers / From the bounce to the ounce, its all our culture'. Common doesn't miss a beat as Kanye's low end horns punch away under the mystifying sample. This producer has pulled out all the stops for an emcee he believes in and admires.
Part of me thinks if Kanye did not have such high commercial expectations he would be keeping these beats for his own album. Its this chemistry between producer and emcee that makes this album exciting as each track stands out on its own but is sequenced in a way that they join together perfectly by various interludes and instrumentals (In the style of 'Midnight Marauders' and 'Mecca & the soul brother'), remember when albums used to have that element?.
Kanye switches it again on 'The Game' with a horn driven beat that wouldn't be out of place from the mid nineties. A surprising lead single for Common as he turns in his freestyle battle raps assisted by Primo scratching up vocal samples from Skillz and OC.. The same magic is worked on 'Southside' where emcee and producer go back and forth on a hard electric guitar lick in what could easily be the follow up to 'Chi City'
The next single is tipped to be 'Driving me wild' with UK artist Lily Allen where Common rides one of Kanye's infectious piano stabbing loops with Lily providing the vocals for the hook. This is one cool track and should provide some decent commercial airplay whilst leaving Commons integrity in tact.
When 'Ye isn't behind the boards the rest of the production duties are shared between the late J Dilla, Will.I.Am and Devo Springsteen who deliver a track each. Dilla appears with a new incarnation of 'So far to Go' (Featuring the Sorely Absent D'angelo) which originally appeared on 'The shining'. This version has more impact as the track starts and has clearly been thought out with regards to fitting in with the rest of the album as we get a whole new set of lyrics from Common. Whilst Will.I.Am has provided some quality music recently as a producer ('A Dream', 'Compton' and 'Hip Hop is Dead') his contribution 'I want you' has a very bland 80's vibe driven by a hollow drum arrangement with Common in his quest for a particular woman. The track seems to be missing enthusiasm and only improves where Common concludes the quest over the same sample 9th Wonder used on Big Pooh's 'My Mind'.
The album winds down with 'Forever Begins' a more gospel influenced track for Common, 'Victory Won / In a world of Hennessey and Guns / Too young for the marches but I remember these drums' referring to the patriotic sounding drums that accompany him. It's a fitting finish for the album for an artist who has come a long way on his journey as an emcee.
Common has truly Found his Forever providing a passionate piece of real hip hop in an industry that has lost its way. He hasn't had to rely on a slew of guest emcee's or the usual mish mash of 'hot' producers which is what usually tears an album apart as one piece of music. For that brave step he has succeeded in putting out the most important hip hop album of 2007 so far.