boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe
CD Review

Common finds a timeless sound

Common's latest disc is 'Finding Forever.' Common's latest disc is "Finding Forever."

The concept was noble, and if any artist could do it, Common would be the one.

But by telling the world a year in advance that the follow-up to 2005's critically acclaimed and -- finally -- commercially viable "Be" would be titled "Finding Forever," the Chicago rapper/conscious rapper/rapper's rapper left himself at the mercy of the hip-hop intelligentsia. The title was nebulous, pretentious, and lofty, the blogs said. And that alliteration? Really?

Set to drop today, "Finding Forever" is another stage in Common's growth as an artist.

Common has developed a deeper sense of self and a deeper sense of soul, refining what was evident on "Be." Here he's teamed almost exclusively with Kanye West, whose mission is apparently to create truly timeless music.

"Finding Forever" finds Common at his best lyrically, which means at his most basic, bending beats to fit his deliberate delivery.

As West's drum-and-string buildup gives way to harp strums and flute puffs on "Start the Show," Common drops a jewel -- "Twelve monkeys on a stage hard to tell who's a gorilla, you better off as a drug dealer" -- then leaves it open for the guessing game to begin.

"The People," "The Game," and "Southside" aren't so much song titles as prompts, allowing Common to fill every nook of every bar with his humanizing verses.

Though not nearly as playful as he was on his 1994 classic, "Resurrection," Common still flashes a sharp wit, even poking fun at West on "Drivin' Me Wild," a drum-and-piano set accented by singer-songwriter/MySpace success story Lily Allen. "They say 'Ye is, but dude was big-headed," he raps. "Rocked a fur in the summer so somebody would pet it."

Common openly admits to making love songs (as opposed to chick records), and "I Want You," a will.i.am track apparently put together when the two linked up for those Gap commercials, and "Breakin' My Heart" are more than acceptable guilty pleas.

Molded along the same soft lines, but with a few too many double entendres, "So Far to Go" is another playfully sensual call-out to the lady listeners.

The track features D'Angelo, who aside from random sightings at Best Buy stores in Virginia has been out of the spotlight for most of the millennium. He hums his way through like a human brass section, but because the song originally appeared on J Dilla's posthumous album "The Shining" in 2006, it can't technically count as a D'Angelo sighting.

West, who produced all but three songs, says he went about creating the sound for this album as if he were J Dilla -- much the way Steven Spielberg completed "A.I." for Stanley Kubrick, who died in 1999 before he could make the movie. Here Dilla is West's Kubrick, except "Finding Forever" is infinitely better than "A.I."

Shamefully, the most interesting song on the album, "Misunderstood," leaked months before the disc's drop date.

Georgia producer Devo Springsteen doesn't so much sample Nina Simone's live performance of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" as he allows the song to play out while Common weaves his rhymes around Simone. You can completely buy the possibility of Common and Simone somehow performing at the same time.

It's the timelessness of one soul icon coupled with another's longing for his place in forever.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES