Billed all too regularly as the nearly man of hip hop, this isn’t technically true of Common. Seven albums in, he was, until 2005’s Be an underground doyen, releasing excellent albums such as Like Water for Chocolate, which were scholarly, streetwise, but never wise-assed. 2002’s Electric Circus was his wigged-out, Prince meets Hendrix meets Kraftwerk sonic adventure, pre-dating Outkast’s genre jumping by several years.
So, in reality, he’s really only been a contender for a shot at the crossover dream in recent years. That Kanye West is a close friend and producer on three quarters of this album and his last gives his sound the required gloss to have him assault the charts in style. The silky chorus thrown in on ‘Drivin’ Me Wild’ by Lily Allen only adds to his chart potential without diluting his own rich, sonorous ryhmes. He may be growing up too (‘My daughter found emo/ I found the new Primo/ You know how we do it/ We do it for the people’ he intones on ‘The People’) but he still sounds hungry.
While its predecessor Be was more rooted in the familiar Kanye West sound, Finding Forever manges to be both ambitious but focussed. It may lack any great surprises but the bottom line is that this is hip hop that has soul and is soulful. He retains a humility that puts his über-producer buddy to shame. And if the jump to superstardom doesn’t happen? So what. He’s still a classier prospect by half.