Published Jan 01, 2006When Common answers the phone with the greeting "Peace" it's hard to doubt the sincerity in his voice. And based on Be, his sixth long-player, there's ample evidence he may have actually found his inner sanctuary. He has often fretted over the yin-yang of human nature on record, but here the Chicago MC seems at peace with disclosing his flaws. He no longer feels the need to cater to the bohemian types or street-oriented cats who ardently follow his music, or the "conscious" tag that often accompanies his rhymes. Consequently, the focus has moved away from introspection to acute observation, an approach that, combined with the hands-on participation of Kanye West, has yielded great buzz especially after online leaks ahead of Be's release.
"The beauty of it is that it's getting the word out and people are saying that the album is incredible," Common says diplomatically. "That's what they said about Kanye's album and it helps out, but we would rather things come out at the right time. I ain't mad at it, it's a blessing. A blessing in a strange way."
Common hasn't received so much praise since his decade-old sophomore effort Resurrection put Chicago hip-hop on the map. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Common's most focused rhymes in recent memory bringing the resilience and striving of those attempting to navigate the pitfalls and social ills surrounding them are evidently inspired by going back to the Windy City.
Kanye West has been the catalyst behind the city's current hip-hop renaissance and his involvement is fitting, given the fact that he was schooled on making beats by No I.D., Resurrection's chief architect. But Common isn't trying to make a facsimile of that record. "I don't wanna go back to '94," he says. "It's a new time and space; I want to be in the present day. I want this album to be new, but to have the spirit of what we had in '94 and '95." In attempting to meet this goal, West's production is stripped of its usual sheen and attunes its gritty soul template to complementing the incisive poetics conveyed by Common's honeyed rasp, providing a holistic feel to the record.
This uniformity was missing from Common's last studio album, Electric Circus. Partly fuelled by disenchantment with hip-hop, that ambitious record stylistically veered from ragtime to psychedelia and collaborations from the Neptunes to Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadlier that, despite moments of brilliance, garnered a mixed reception. Since then he's watched MCs like Andre 3000 push the boundaries of hip-hop eccentricity. "One of the complaints I had about my album is that people never saw Electric Circus coming. I thought they would have because I was totally evolving, always being whoever I was at the time. Me. But people never saw it coming. I don't think people's minds are open to going just totally out of the box. I think it's a process you kinda have to take them through."
Ever since he was a scrawny upstart who asked to borrow a dollar back in '92, Common has attempted whether it was a success or not to do just that. The difference is now a lot more people are taking notice. "I've always been doing this but it got to the masses with Kanye," says Common. "It helped out the situation a lot. In the world right now, people are tired of just getting the superhero talking and the gangsta talk all the time and they know there are other people in the world, so they connect with those people who are honest."