Monday, August 13, 2007

Finding Forever Review

Common has always been an incredible MC. Like his recent career choices or not- acting, Gap ads, etc.- one can't deny the uncanny rhyming ability, presence, flow and diverse subject matter presented by the Chicago representative. From tributes to Political refugee Assata Shakur ("A Song for Assata") to well disguised metaphors (hip hop symbolized by a former lover in "I Used to Love HER") to unique love songs ("The Light") to storytelling ("Testify"), Common has set the standard for originality and general song composition; let us not also forget his ability to mold genuine, true-school, Hip-Hop anthems ("The Sixth Sense").
It's no surprise then that his last album, BE achieved great commercial success and a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. It was critically acclaimed by both fans and tough critics alike, and with good reason. Producer Kanye West seemed to be the guiding light (no pun intended, vis a vis recent attacks on Kanye's sexuality) to help Common back in to port after a head scratching, yet somewhat satisfying ELECTRIC CIRCUS. Common seemed to be more focused and flowed more naturally over the boom-bap and soul inspired production of West.
Finding Forever finds Common and Ye teaming up again to create an even better album. Kanye handles production on 8 of the 12 tracks, with one apiece by, the late Jay-Dilla, and Devo Springsteen. It plays like a continuation of BE which both hurts and helps the album. Usually a "say the positive first" kind of guy, I'm going to go head and do the opposite. The album tends to drag a bit on a few songs. The production on "Black Maybe" and "Break My Heart" stick too close to both Common and Kanye's formula's respectively. "U, Black Maybe" sounds like something that would have made ELECTRIC CIRCUS more grounded and "Break My Heart" finds Kanye relying on his usual formula of a repetitive sample, a bit too lazily.

The album, though, excels past the boundaries of BE.'s production on "I Want You" is his best since his Nas hit "Hip Hop is Dead" and works perfectly for Common, as it's synth plays well against Common's ode to an old lover. In content, the song is reminiscent of "The Light" in how bright it stands against the dense fog of cookie-cutter rap love songs. "Drivin Me Wild", featuring the delicate yet savvy voice of Lily Allen, is a testament to Common's storytelling ability and commanding flow, as he navigates the choppy, infectious beat with a tale of characters in troubled waters. "Misunderstood" stands out with its haunting piano, ominous flute and well placed Nina Simone sample, while Common deftly plays social observer, detailing the paradoxes confronted by struggling people. "U, Black Maybe" (despite my previous comments) stands as a powerful observation on culture and lifestyle. "The People" is a more upbeat social commentary, embedded with hope and sense of pride in self that comes from introspection as opposed to egotistical machismo found in the bawdy mainstream rap anthems of today. "Let's Start the Show" is the perfect 'Track 2'- that first full song on a rap album that blows your mind and usually foretells a dope album (i.e. Atmosphere's "Onemosphere" on GOD LOVES UGLY), and "Southside" is filled with lines that make you go "Ohhhhhhh, sh**!". Kanye, appearing on the latter, trades similarly potent verses with Common that help solidify him as -lyrically- one of the strongest in the game.
"So Far to Go", produced by the late, great and long time Common collaborator J Dilla, throws D'Angelo back into the mix, giving a feeling reminiscent of the soliquarians' chemistry from LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. This track appeared on J Dilla's last album, but was worth the inclusion, as Common has many times stated that the album is somewhat a dedication to the much missed producer. The standout track, however, is "The Game". If you know me, you know how much I love DJ Premier and Common last collabo- "The Sixth Sense". It is, in my opinion, Common's greatest achievement. This track might be just sharing a spot upon that pedestal. Kanye actually produces the track, but Preemo's scratches stand out in typical Preemo style, a style that will never die, that will always be hip-hop. (It's also a good indication that Preemo did not take offense to Common's line: My daughter found Nemo/ I found the new Preemo {from "The People"}). The album ends on a positive tip with "Forever Found". It rings with and upbeat piano and scant drum placement, while Common tells of great achievements of his own and his culture. "No religion or race could ever describe us" he says, while a vocal sample plays softly in the background. It is if he were looking back over his phenomenal career and the rocky roads traversed towards progress endured by all who have struggled, with reality causing him to choke back a tear and a hopeful glint in his eye guiding him towards forever.

I Highly recommend this album.

8 out of 10.

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