The sound of an artist in their comfort zone - content that their boundary-pushing...
Alex Forster 2007
When Jay-Z stated on 2003’s “Moment of Clarity”, ‘Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense/But I did five mil/I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.’ The Brooklyn bomber was showing respect for Common as an M.C but also highlighting the discrepancy between realism and revenue in the hip hop industry. With 2002’s critical and commercial success Be, Rashid Lynn, Jr, aka Common proved ‘conscious’ hip hop could shift units.
Following on from the platinum selling Be, Kanye West is back at the helm for the majority of Finding Forever. The problem is, not only does this formula sound tired, but the slight dullness that always threatened to outweigh Common’s street-smart bohemian schtick finally prevails.
If the Windy City veteran’s latest album is supposed to be a tribute to the late producer Jay Dilla (who died in 2006), it’s fitting that “So Far To Go” (the only Dilla beat on the record) is one of the standout tracks; D’angelo’s tones float dreamily over vinyl crackles and immaculately produced snare hits.
The West/Common partnership works on “The Game”, which takes it’s cue from a dozen DJ Premier beats circa 1992 (Premo contributes the scratches). The Wu Tang samples sound tight and Common delivers his rhymes with verve. Though his flow cannot be faulted; the hypocrisy of his message often hits harder than the production. Any individual that appears in a Gap clothing advert singing the tagline ‘Peace, Love and Gap’ cannot seriously moralize on ‘Babylon puppets’ (“The Game”).
Elsewhere you are reminded why Common is held in such high esteem as a lyricist; with damning indictments of other rappers (‘With 12 monkeys on the stage it's hard to see who's a guerilla/ You was better as a drug dealer’ - “Start The Show”) and succinct wordplay (‘A conscious n**ga with more Mac than Steve Jobs’ - “Southside”). “Driving Me Wild” enlists anglo rap-chanteuse of the moment Lily Allen, whose sweet lilting voice rolls nicely over marching drums.
In 1994, with “I Used to Love HER”, Common emerged as an informed and articulate alternative to the prevailing gangster rap ethos. But Finding Forever is the sound of an artist in their comfort zone - content that their boundary-pushing days are behind them - resigned to middle age. A frustrating listen…