In this day and age, Common is a lot of things to many different people: a poet, an actor, a Soulquarian, an activist, a beacon of social consciousness. This is the man who asked Can I Borrow A Dollar? back in 1992 and flipped it into a post-Native Tongues mini-odyssey; a new-age hippie whose work with Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, ?uestlove, D’Angelo, and the rest of the Soulquarians inspired him to journey to the fringes of hip-hop experimentation with genre-blending works the likes of Like Water For Chocolate and Electric Circus. Common had firmly established himself as Chicago’s premier socially conscious flower child, a new-age everyman with his head in the clouds, yet his feet firmly planted in the ghetto foundations of a Black America that sorely needed the voice (and still does); this was a status that would face its first true test once the divisive reaction to the *very* experimental nature of Electric Circus roared up. The man born Lonnie Lynn and formerly known as Common Sense had made it clear that even he was a bit iffy with how Circus turned out, and decided that it was time to return to the funk and slap of his boom-bap roots; it was time for Common to Be.
During an interview with SixShot.com, Common broke down exactly what the succinct title means: “I named it Be to be who you are, man, and be able to be in the moment and not try too hard. Be is another way of saying just do without trying hard, like I said, natural and be true to the core of who you are; and this album, I wanted to just be and not just go and exist as just an artist, not worried about the past.” That being said, Common’s decision to link up with burgeoning superstar producer/MC Kanye West through their mutual mentor No I.D. is a prime example of heading toward the future with golden-hued thoughts of the past in mind. West produced the vast majority of Be, which was also released under his G.O.O.D. Music imprint at Geffen Records, and ‘Ye’s vintage stylistic flourishes (sped-up vocals, obscure soul sample loops), almost classical by hip-hop standards, permeate most every corner of the record. The jubilant and inquisitive fan-fare of “Be (Intro)” starts the record off as it means to go on (“Killers immortalized/We got arms but won’t reach for the skies”), stressing the overall theme of being all that you can be, the heartbeat that the entire project vibes on.
In his pursuit to inspire the best in everyone who listens, it’s surprising that Com rarely wags his finger from a soapbox across Be. His honesty and raw charisma lend his street-level stories as much allure as his airtight cadence does, and when he drops gems like “The world is cold, the block is hot as a stove on the corners” on “The Corner,” featuring bars from early spoken word/hip-hop mavericks The Last Poets, there’s little doubt that he means it. This earnest and compelling gift of gab extends out to the more heady songs like “Faithful” and “Testify,” but works just as well while Com gets his Barry White on during the sultry baby-making track “Go.” Com’s world-weary brand of optimism, not to mention that mid-low register in his voice, gives weight to just about anything he says, accented by Kanye’s soulful production touches; the swift drum break loop and booming key chords on murder mystery “Testify” seamlessly mesh with Com’s deceptive courtroom sob story. And Taraji P. Henson absolutely kills it in the companion video.