The DL issue 870
Monday, 6 August 2007
The Chicago MC Common has set high standards for his albums. As such, he’s expected to present a masterpiece every time. Lonnie Rashid Lynn’s new effort, Finding Forever, doesn’t yield any surprises - outrageous or not - but perhaps that’s what hip hop needs in 2007.
You can count on Common to allay fears that hip hop is in trouble. Finding Forever is the kind of record that might stabilise hip hop, even if it stops short of being magic.
Common reconsolidated his place in hip hop with 2005’s excellent Be, his first album on Kanye West’s GOOD imprint. Be signalled a return to the vibe of Like Water For Chocolate. (It also saw Common perform in Australia, a smart pick for Big Day Out.) Before Be, he’d delivered the wayward Electric Circus. In fact, Electric Circus was a psychedelic masterwork but apparently too avant-garde, eccentric and experimental for straight-up hip hop fans. It’s widely deemed a commercial - and creative - failure, even by Common himself. He conceived the ‘blue-collar’ Be as an apology.
Common further delves into the blue-collar terrain of songs like The Corner on Finding Forever, which, clocking in at just under 50 minutes, certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. Kanye again directs the LP.
If anything, Finding Forever is too much of a continuation as Common, who has a knack for balancing the poetic with the polemic plateaus artistically. But, again, that could be intentional considering the album’s theme. Common wanted to craft ‘forever music’ - music that stands the test of time. There are no gimmicks here. Importantly, the LP is an undeclared sonic homage to the late J Dilla.
Common unravels his conscious lyrics over a jazzy, funky and soulful backdrop. He asserts himself on the Gil Scott Heron-sampling lead single, The People, a throwback to the proletarian The Corner, with Detroit’s Dwele. A musical stand-out is Drivin’ Me Wild with Lily Allen. It has a militaristic beat, like Jesus Walks. Tipped as the third single, Drivin’ Me Wild, referencing the allegedly OTT actions of the lovesick NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, deals with obsessive behaviour and, at one point, a female’s fixation with her appearance. However, Common ignores the profound social pressures on women as well as the nature of their body angst - his critique is reductive. Finding Forever offers a track from Dilla in the mellow So Far To Go, with D’Angelo in a rare cameo. Happily, Finding Forever boasts just the sole cut from will.i.am.
Finding Forever is bolstered by choice samples, with the compelling Misunderstood conspicuously using Nina Simone’s bluesy Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (the anthem of The Animals, who recorded it as a rock jam).
Common’s Finding Forever is an assured LP, though not classic.
Common isn’t the only major MC to resurface this year. Fiddy will drop the curiously delayed Curtis in September.
The latest single The DL has heard is the nifty Ayo Technology - techno-hop courtesy of Timbaland. Ayo Technology features Justin Timberlake, ever keen to verify his R&B credentials. It also underscores the extent to which Fiddy really is a bona-fide pop star - a McGangsta.