I’m back like a chiroprac with b-boy survival rap/ it ain’t ninety-fo, Joe, we can’t go back
-Common, “Chi City.”
These lines, lifted from Common’s sixth studio album, Be, remind us about the danger of nostalgia. Ever since fans lauded Common’s second album, Resurrection, a classic, they have expected him to revert to his old self. Where is the Common Sense with the nimble tongue, double metaphors, and puns? Where is the emcee “whose rhymes be kickin like a brother’s breath be stinkin”? Well, on his sixth album, he reminds folks he’s still here, still hungry, but he refuses to rest in his past. He chooses instead to just be.
On Be, Common hooks up with Chi native Kanye West, who produces nine of the eleven tracks on the album, and Jay Dee. Kanye West and Common exhibit wonderful chemistry together, evidenced by the lead single, “The Corner,” where Common, along with the Last Poets, documents every day life in the city:
We write about wrong ‘cause it’s hard to see right
lookin to the sky hoping it will bleed light
reality is a bitch, and I heard that she bites.
Raw and poignant, this song thumps with urgency. From here, the momentum never really stops. Common divulges his sexual fantasies on the track “Go,” which, despite its annoying hook (Kanye chants “Go,” repeatedly) meshes well with John Mayer’s smooth vocals. Common explores his faith on the track “Faithful,” and then explores a riveting revenge tale on the song, “Testify,” a track that reminds us his storytelling abilities are in full effect. On “Real People,” Common continues where “The Corner,” left off, exploring the struggles of everyday people. Kanye West’s production shines here, as the saucy horns breathe warmth into the track.
Despite the chemistry that West and Common show throughout the album, it seems that Common’s words really shine on Jay Dee’s beats. Jay Dee produces the albums strongest cuts, “Love Is,” and “It’s Your World 1 &2.” On the latter, lush strings and simmering vocals from guest crooner, Bilal, set the stage for Common’s thought provoking lyrics about a young woman who struggles to leave the world of prostitution:
I remember in high school she had a passion to sing
Now she see herself in a casket in dreams . . .
This queen never seen herself on this corner
She still wanna see California
But this is her world.
There really are very few flaws on this album. The poor audio quality of the track, “Food,” which Common and Kanye West performed on the Dave Chappelle Show, makes the song feel unpolished. In addition, Kanye West’s verse on the song, “They Say,” could have been left out; it’s not exactly terrible, but it’s mediocre at best. Despite these minor missteps, Common has released a captivating album. On Be, Common has chosen neither to revert to his past for nostalgic purses, nor stray too far from his roots, thereby alienating his fans. In his words, “the present is a gift.” And he just wants to be.