Common
Be


4.5
superb

Review

by Zesty Mordant USER (24 Reviews)
August 18th, 2005 | 73 replies


Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist


Following the luke-warm reception of 2003’s love-it-or-hate-it Electric Circus, Lonnie Lynn aka. Common decided to make a return to the same unbridled conscious rap that he perfected better in past albums such as Resurrection and Someday It’ll All Make Sense. Where Electric Circus was daringly melded hip-hop with nostalgic 1960s psychedelica and contained many a producer (Neptunes, ?uestlove) and guests (Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, that guy from P.O.D.), Be is a stripped-down back-to-basics effort that finds producer-du-jour Kanye West at the production helm for the albums majority.

West’s production for the most part is probably the most pivotal aspect of this record as it shall be duley noted that in the past few years many of Common’s conscious peers have been suffering some sort of identity/creativity crisis: Black Eyed Peas and Talib Kweli have both gone pop for better or worse; Mos Def’s latest was massively unfocused and all over the map; and the Roots’ The Tipping Point was just plain unimpressive. Common, it seemed, was headed in the same direction yet Be demonstrates itself to be a strong collection of songs- an actual “album" if you will- one that can just be put on without skipping tracks (well almost, as I later determine). Much of this is due to not only to Common’s still-strong mastery of words and flows but also to Kanye’s production which demonstrates a very strong and potent 1970’s Philly soul vibe complete with graceful strings, slinky rhythms, and poignant vocal samples (sped up Kanye-style of course). Vibes of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and especially Tom Bell are peppered throughout the mix in a very blissful and refreshing manner. Though some might like to think that The College Dropout was a great record for West, Be may in fact be superior due to its great focus and attention to detail in applying the right beats for the right lyrics.

The best example of this mind-meld between Common and Kanye comes right at the start of the album with “Be (Intro)" as a lone jazzy acoustic bass is plucking at a solemn pace only to pick up into a quick and intense bassline that is soon layered with some very whimsy piano and strings that compliment the melody beautifully. Common that drops a very solid and confident verse, probably his best in years

“I want to be as free as the spirits of those who left
I'm talking Malcolm, Coltrane, my man Yusef
Through death grew conception
New breath and resurrection
For moms, new steps in her direction
In the right way
Told inside is where the fight lay
And everything a nigga do may not be what he might say
Chicago nights stay, stay on the mind
But I write many lives and lay on these lines
Wave the signs of the times
Many say the grind's on the mind
Shorties blunted-eyed and everyone wanna rhyme"

Simple, short, and effective, the intro kicks right into the main single “The Corner"- another effective cut in which a gritty piano heavy beat sets the backdrop for some skillful and very alliterative rhyming that is contrasted with some great spoken word courtesy of the Last Poets. Be for the most part is littered with these great moments and the best comes with “Faithful" which utilizes a gorgeous female vocal sample against shimmering piano, strings, horns, and a talk-box guitar lick that oozes passion and feeling. With this Common deploys some of his most earnest lyrics in a long while. The opening lines are the most grabbing:

"I was rolling around, in my mind it occurred
What if God was a Her?
Would I treat her the same?
Would I still be runnin' game on Her?
In what type of ways would I want Her?
Would I want her for her mind
Or her heavenly body
Couldn't be out here bogus
With someone so godly"

“Testify" meanwhile features a vocal loop that is a measure twice of Common’s rapping resulting in an almost polyrhythmic feel. It also tells a great story of betrayal and grief. “They Say" meanwhile utilizes some great electric piano melodies that recall Hancock recordings of the mid-1960s over a static rhythm and a great verse by Kanye. “Chi-City" and “Real People" feature pure-1970s soul nostalgia with grooving trumpet melodies, jangly rhythms and woeful saxes. All of this is laid out over Common’s smooth baritone delivery that never seems to hint at losing momentum, as he roams the far corners of his mind and lets them flow into the mic.

However this album isn’t without any problems and though intended to be an album in which one just put on and let play, there are certainly a few moments in which fast-forward button is beckoned. Common always has a tendency to be a little too, well, mushy and Be contains a good share of Hallmark card moments. Go! is the most obvious example in which Common sexually fantasizes over a syrupy piano line and a loop of John Mayer singing the word “Go" over and over again (which is more than enough Mayer for me). “Love Is…" meanwhile is even worse as he stumbles lyrically on preaching of the merits of love. Lines like “Love is love" (well, duh) and “Love your Mother/ Love your Sister/ God is Love" reek of sap.

As well Common also automatically loses points for proclaiming that he’s “Rick James, bitch" in “Chi-City" (though he almost redeems it for name-dropping Utlramagnetic MCs). Speaking of Chappelle, another fault for the album is “The Food", which isn’t given a studio treatment and is just pulled directly from his performance on the said show. It’s a great song and all, but the live cut kind of ruins the flow of the album and would’ve been certainly nice to see a studio working of it.

Yet despite these few shortcomings, Common (and Kanye West) have been able to deliver a very graceful and moving album that is hard to come by these days in the world of commercial hip-hop. Be is one of those rare occasions where the album cover kind of speaks for the content (despite the oft-used phrase). Looking at the golden portrait of the beaming MC it can be stated that yes, it’s a very simple album but a joyous and fun one at that.

Recommended tracks:
Be (Intro)
Faithful
They Say
Testify
The Corner



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user ratings (473)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
cjwbball51 (5)
Best rap album in the last three years....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Iai
Emeritus
August 18th 2005


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review. I'd rate the album higher, though - it's my favourite hip-hop album of the year so far. I like Go, though I can certainly see why you wouldn't. Agreed with Love Is, though.

Blindguardian
August 18th 2005


186 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review, great album. I disagree with your review a bit (I too liked 'Go' and the food, which I felt broke up the album a bit, in a good way) but that doesn't stop your review from being effective. My favorite track is Faithful, I like the lyrics.

Zesty Mordant
August 18th 2005


1196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm tempted to give it a 4.5 but I feel it would be too much of a fanboy review.

In fact, looking at all my past reviews, pretty much every album I've done is a rave. I'm due for butchering a cd.

LF96
August 22nd 2005


97 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Did you hear the studio version of The Food (it was on the bootleg)? It was pretty bad compared to the live version. It seemed lifeless and without any soul. It was imo a good decision to include the live version and not the studio version.

As for the album, I like it, but I think it's slightly overrated (already now). I'm giving it 4.25/5. The Corner, Chi-City and It's Your World are the best songs. That keyboard in Be (the song) is really out of place sounding and keeps the song from being 5/5. Go! and Testify are the least interesting songs imo.

Zesty Mordant
August 22nd 2005


1196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Interesting, I had no idea their actually was a studio version of "The Food".

However, I think the keyboards in "Be" aren't out of place in all. in fact I think that by blending electronic sounds with more organic acoustic ones like strings, upright bass, and piano a more interesting and lively timbre is produced and overall allows the song to have a warmer and graceful feel.

LF96
August 23rd 2005


97 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think it would've worked better with an electric guitar replacing the keyboard or something.

masada
September 9th 2005


2733 Comments


Common is one of the better rappers around these days.

woofwoofwoof
September 19th 2005


156 Comments


Be is such a great songalbum

morrissey
Moderator
December 22nd 2005


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This album is pure brilliance. I need to listen to it more often.

Med57
Moderator
December 22nd 2005


1001 Comments


One of the better albums of the year. Along with Blackalicious's latest effort probably the best rap album of 2005.

Zesty Mordant
December 22nd 2005


1196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've decided to bump up my original rating a notch. This album definitely has a lot of replayability (if thats a word) as it pretty much hasn't left my cd player for the past 6 months.

Cravinov13
December 22nd 2005


3854 Comments


I don't see the big hollabaloo about this guy, even though I can't stand Rap, I know when I hear a good rapper, this guy doesn't seem to stand-out compared to some of the other ones I've heard.

Jawaharal
December 22nd 2005


1832 Comments


I saw him perform live on some TV show and he was great.

Zesty Mordant
December 22nd 2005


1196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5


Really? what kind of rappers have you heard/enjoy?
This Message Edited On 12.22.05

Cravinov13
December 22nd 2005


3854 Comments


I don't enjoy rap at all, but it's mainly the lack of music, I can't stand those beats
and turntables at all. 50 Cent is okay, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Tupac. But even then...
rap just isn't me... at all.

Little Jon is the biggest disgrace in music. Period.This Message Edited On 12.22.05

Zesty Mordant
December 22nd 2005


1196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It seems that you have a very narrow view of hip-hop.

But anyways Common is acclaimed for a good amount of reasons. First, is his flow which contains some very distinct and original styles of phrasing, which he also able to switch to different styles seamlessly in his raps.

He also has a very distinct voice which is why ALOT of people like him. It's very calm, laid-back and intelligent sounding, added with a very smooth vocal delivery that can also achieve to be intensive when needed in the song.

His lyrics are top-notch as well as he often communicates profound deep reflections about himself, social relationships and political and socio-logical situations. He's got some great one-liners as well.

His beats and music are great too and by relying heavily on vintage jazz and soul samples, as well as live instruments his the emotion and tone of his lyrics are given more weight and provide a better effect for the listener. It also has a more organic edge to it.

well thats some of them at least, and I think he's every bit of deserving of any positive acclaim that he gets.

Zappa
December 22nd 2005


355 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Pretty boring, isn't it?

masada
December 22nd 2005


2733 Comments


I agree with every Zesty said, besides the rating.

supraman_2
December 22nd 2005


146 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Common is always very consistant with the quality of his albums, even Electric Circus wasn't that bad just too much wandering. This is a great album by one of the true hip-hop artists of today.
Good review

Cravinov13
December 23rd 2005


3854 Comments


It seems that you have a very narrow view of hip-hop.


I heard more of his stuff. It was okay by rap standards. Scratch off what I said about 50 Cent and put Nelly in there instead. I don't mind rap so much in other styles of music, such as the rapcore in old Slipknot and the rap rock that Kid ROck used to do. I just can't stand that Gangsta rap that Snoop Dogg and all those other shi**y rappers do.



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