COMMON: Cass Bird
Raymond Fiore
May 23, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Rap ambition is so often manifested by bloated and mediocre double-disc ”events” that Be, Common’s 11-track gem, might seem positively meek by comparison. Oh, but how the hip-hop hit-erati could learn from his example: The Chicago MC’s sixth CD is 43 minutes bursting with street-smart, warmhearted (but not corny) goodness.

Common’s never released a subpar effort, so his capacity to create compelling work is hardly surprising. However, Be‘s leanness (missing from 2002’s intriguing yet overreaching Electric Circus) signals awesome growth even without pushing sonic boundaries. And we can partly credit fellow Chi-town native and this year’s Grammy golden boy Kanye West (who’s releasing the disc through his own Universal imprint and oversees all but two of the cuts) for Common’s renewed focus: The marriage of the MC’s conscious rhymes to West’s gritty, boho-inflected production boasts more organic freshness than a Whole Foods Market.

Indeed, with the exception of the soggy, sunny-clichéd ”Love Is…,” Be achieves a jazzy, Native Tongues-like complexity that still resonates on ghetto corners. Whether cleverly narrating a courtroom drama on ”Testify,” glorifying hood dwellers on the Coltrane-feeling reverie ”Real People,” or celebrating monogamy on the irresistible, D.J. Rogers-sampling ”Faithful,” Common favors accessibility over abstract experimentation. And who cares if Be isn’t groundbreaking? As West’s label name promises, this is simply GOOD music.

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