When this writer was buying Common's Be from Tower Records, the attendant felt the need to say "this is a good little album. You know why?"
He pointed to his head, stared straight and whispered "it makes you think."
While his turning an offhand comment into a melodramatic situation made the brief encounter awkward for both parties, damnit if he wasn't right. On his sixth record, the rapper, who's always been considered "underground" but now carries a large following, utilizes simple measures to hone his craft into a mature, oftentimes powerful record. Be is only 11 tracks total (nine produced by Kanye West), a feat in its own right ? how many rap records aren't half skits?
But Be's real triumph, as the Tower guy said, is Common's exceptional songwriting. He touches not insignificantly on his devotion towards his daughter, the bad example many rappers promote, the role racism still plays in our society and his undying hope that we can break the cycle. It sounds a bit hokey on paper, but don't get the impression that Common has turned into Will Smith ? he promotes his messages always with a biting swagger.
The only real flaw on the album is its inclusion of a live performance with Kanye West on Chappelle's Show. The track is fine, but Chappelle's sudden appearance more or less derails the train. Fortunately, the record recovers to finish strong. Following-up on 2002's noble misfire The Electric Circus, Common has done just the same.