Even though signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr, more commonly known as Common, is probably a rapper that doesn’t get talked about as often as others. With all of his other endeavors from acting in multiple films, to winning an Oscar with his inspirational song, “Glory”, featuring John Legend, to recently hosting “We Day,” celebrating the service of many kids in his hometown Chicago, Common is clearly more than just a rapper. He’s an inspiration to many who grew up in tough atmospheres longing for more than what is around them. Through music, he touches the hearts of many by always encouraging those who want something in life to strive for it no matter the obstacles or opposition. His album Be is a perfect example of that message.
Be dropped on May 24, 2005 and since has been considered a classic. With Kanye West and J Dilla at the helm of this LP’s production, you know that this record is something special. This album helped further launch Kanye’s career to super-stardom and was one of the last projects J Dilla did before his unfortunate premature death in 2006. What I love in particular is how subtle this album begins with the opening track, “Be”. A simple guitar riff was all that was needed to set the tone for a fantastic intro. Not only is the quality of the production astounding, but the way Common poetically describes his perspective of the world is incredible. His first words were,
“I wanna be as free as the spirits for those who left I’m talking Malcom, Coltrane, my man Yusef.”
The imagery this line conjures up is beautiful and very descriptive. Common does the same thing on “The Corner”, by describing the difficulties and turbulent things that occur on the corners of Chicago. What really ties a ribbon on the top is the feature of the controversial spoken-word poets, The Last Poets. They are a group of poets who originated from the late 1960’s whose poems are usually politically charged and filled with rhymes to describe the beauty of African American culture. They’re used in this track to further describe the struggles that blacks face as well as what the corner means to those growing up in tough surroundings. Their presence on this track to the naked eye seems insignificant but to those who pay attention to detail in music, their presence further emphasizes the importance of what Common is saying.
This album is pretty short with only 11 tracks, but within these limited tracks a lot was said. My favorite track is “Faithful”. It is a beautiful track, that asks a question that is not thought about often. What if God was a her? Along with that thought provoking question, the soul that is put into this track stands out like a sore thumb. The beautiful sample of D.J. Roger’s “Faithful to the End” as well as vocals from Bilal and label-mate, John Legend piece together to make a truly soulful and heartfelt song. Next comes “Testify”, which to me is a track that seems like more of a hip-hopera than a song, but a great one nonetheless. This is another example of Common’s amazing storytelling. Only a handful of great rappers can tell a story in such a descriptive manner. I mean think about it, imagine trying to fit as much as you can from a story within 16 measly bars. Not easy. Common almost makes it look effortless as he goes into detail as to what is occurring in a court room. It seems as if he can do no wrong on this amazing LP, then just when I think it couldn’t get better, in comes Dave Chappelle’s voice as “The Food” comes begins.
Now at first, I wondered why Common decided to put a live version of the song onto the album rather than the studio version, but it didn’t take me long to understand why. Apparently Common said the reason why the studio version was not put onto the album was due to the live version being more live and full of energy. After listening to the studio version, I fully agree that the live version had so much more passion and energy. Now don’t get me wrong, the studio version of “The Food” is a great song, but one does not need to be a genius to know that the live version was clearly better. Whether an artist is on stage or in the studio, your audience must feel what you’re saying not only through what you say, but how you say it. This same energy that is brought onto “The Food” remains ubiquitous throughout this whole album, which to me is one of the key factors that makes it the classic that it is today. What I would say really makes this album a memorable one is how inspirational it is.
I can’t help praise how this album from start to finish is one that inspires you to make the best out of life and do what you want to do. This album closes out in perfect fashion on “It’s Your World Pt 1 & 2,” in which Common brings in his father Lonnie Lynn, or “Pops”, to close out what was to me, an album that encourages the youth as well as adults to be whatever they want to be in life. If you ask me, albums like these should be praised for their ability to remain cohesive all the way through and deliver a positive message to the youth. I mean let’s be honest you don’t see much of these types of rap albums present in mainstream music today or on the radio. Even though this album came out a decade ago, it has been praised as one of his best works and is just another reason why you got to love the music he makes, as well the impact he makes on people through his music, movies, and community work.