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Common - Finding Forever

Common, Finding Forever

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

COMMON is another of those prolific hip hop artists who seem to be able to dabble in everything they turn their attention to. In between delivering his latest album with the help of Kanye West, he’s also been furthing his movie career with a prominent role in Joe Carnahan’s cracking ensemble Smokin’ Aces.

And that’s only the start of it. Over the coming months, we’ll see Common starring alongside screen heavyweights Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, as well as lining up alongside Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman in Wanted and the soon to start filming The Nightwatch Man with Forrest Whitaker and Keanu Reeves.

He’s also published his first book in the form of a children’s story entitled I Like You But I Love Me which was subsequently nominated for an NAACP Image Award and launched his own hat line, Soji.

The big question, therefore, is has he taken his eye off the ball in terms of his music? The answer is yes and no. Finding Forever, his seventh studio album, is a slick collection of hip hop, soul, R’n‘B and gospel – but it also lacks some of the ambition found in his earlier work.

With Kanye West returning as producer (just as he did on 2005’s Be), Finding Forever subscribes to a tried and tested formula for success. When it’s hot, it’s hot. But when it’s not, the effect is quite cooling; and there are some pretty generic/average tracks in the mix.

But let’s concentrate on the positives for now. Common’s lyricism is refreshingly free from the usual hip hop references to “whores, bitches” and gangsta bragging. And he chooses his collaborators and samples well.

Lead track The People is a funky blend of smooth flowing rap, soulful backing vocals from Dwele, keyboards and samples from Long Red and We Almost Lost Detroit.

While the Lily Allen assisted Drivin Me Wild is as chart-friendly and upbeat as they come – no doubt benefitting massively from Kanye West’s peerless production values. Allen’s vocals work well in tandem with Common’s and the beats and melodies are finger tappingly good. It’s a hip hop summer anthem in waiting.

There’s a harder hip hop sound associated with his Kanye duet Southside, which drops the term “nigger” a little too easily, but still gets under your skin in the right way, and The Game is loaded with funky beats and samples, as well as a positive “you gotta be in it to win it” ethos.

Misunderstood, meanwhile, is another highlight, again utilising some soulful backing vocals (this time from Bilal), some excellent keys and flutes from Omar Edwards and a telling sample from Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. It’s a deeply chilled out offering that marks a nice contrast to some of the harder beats, and it rolls nicely into the similarly melodic and gospel backed Forever Begins, featuring extra vocals from Bilal and Lonnie Lynn Jr.

Final track Play Your Cards Right ends proceedings with a smooth grooving collection of beats and samples that hark back to a ’70s Northern Soul era. It’s effortlessly funky and contains another genuinely smooth vocal turn from Bilal. Don’t be surprised if it makes its way onto the American Gangster soundtrack!

As good as such moments are, however, the rest of the album sometimes feels like its on auto-pilot – or content to stick to formula. The beats remain smooth and effortlessly layered, the samples well-judged but tracks like Break My Heart, So Far To Go and the will.i.am produced I Want You could be on any hip hop album and don’t really stretch Common’s talents.

Still, that shouldn’t put people off – Finding Forever is a lot better than most hip hop albums and is worth owning for its highlights alone.

Download picks: The People, Drivin Me Wild, Southside, The Game, Misunderstood, Forever Begins, Play Your Cards Right

Track listing:

  1. Intro
  2. Start the Show
  3. The People
  4. Drivin’ Me Wild – feat. Lily Allen
  5. I Want You
  6. Southside – feat. Kanye West
  7. The Game – feat. DJ Premier
  8. U, Black Maybe
  9. So Far To Go – feat. D’Angelo
  10. Break My Heart
  11. Misunderstood
  12. Forever Begins
  13. Play Your Cards Right-Feat. Bilal