On Thursdays we review albums that are considered “classic”. Be you. Be yourself. Be the person you want to be; simply exist. Stay true to the core of who you are as an individual, no matter what others want or expect from you. This is the premise behind an album that raised the constantly shifting, metaphorical bar in hip-hop culture. This album was the aptly named, Be by Common, which was released in 2005. He released this album three years following the critically divided experimental album, Electric Circus. The divisive nature of that album is what allowed Be to shine like a supernova. Unlike it’s predecessor, Be allowed very little room for criticism.
Common moved his personal life and thoughts into a glass house for this album. In other words, he shows you everything. Every song on the album has aspects that will touch your heart and allow you to actually feel the music.This is the album’s defining characteristic; its ability to connect to listeners on a personal level. Common’s open reflection and street-wise lyrics beg listeners to examine their own inner thoughts, and most of all, to be happy with the life you lead.
The production on the album was handled entirely by Kanye West and the late J Dilla. The soulfulness of the project simply can’t be put into words. To get somewhat of an idea, each and every track on the album features a sample, many of which come from 60’s and 70’s soul and R&B singers/groups (i.e.; The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Linda Lewis). I like to think the look on my face while perusing through the album on my phone is similar to that of Common’s on the album cover. The term, “feel-good music”, very much applies to this body of work. Even when deconstructing the ghettoization of urban communities via drug addiction and street violence parallels, there is always a certain sense of hope maintained.
I recall it taking me nearly 15 minutes to make it to the second song when I first listened to the album years ago. Simply titled, ‘Be (Intro)’, the song is anything but. Adding instruments one after another, the song, which withholds on lyrics for nearly half of its duration, builds such a strong sense of optimism, that when Common starts spitting bars about all the things he wants change and achieve; you actually believe that he is going to. The heavy bass notes from a guitar are accompanied by a keyboard and eventually piano, which combine to make one of the most memorable album introductions of the last decade.
Followed by the grittier sound of ‘The Corner’, which contains a trudging bass and piano beat that Common flows impeccably over. Common plays a hood corner curator and describes what the corners where he grew up were like. Joined by the legendary, The Last Poets and Kanye West on the hook, it is definitely the hardest hitting song on the album.
“Black church services, murderers, Arabs serving burgers
As cats with gold permanents, move they bags as herbalists
The dirt isn’t just fertile, it’s people working and earning this
The curb getters go where the cash flow and the current is.”
We are taken from the slow, gritty street sound to ‘Go!’; the most commercially successful song on the album. It is a mellow song all about Common’s sexual fantasies. Instead of sounding like he’s objectifying women, it manages to provide typical sexual rap lyrics in a way that retains respect for women. It has Common sounding like he’s actually in love, instead of simply in bed with this girl only for the night.
The rest of the album follows suit. Staying equal measures jazzy and soulful, Common provides his signature lyricism and innate storytelling abilities, while Kanye proves to be just as masterful behind the boards. Unlike most albums, which have a few missteps that end up detracting from what could’ve been, Be is held together throughout by Common’s unwavering honesty. Through and through this album is an unskippable classic that will definitely have your head nodding and you keeping your finger away from the “next” button.