Ever the rap revivalist, Common is now relying on his past formula that has generated exceptional music — social consciousness, passion and raw lyrics — tightly wrapped in a consistent theme and melded in the production of Kanye West and soul hip-hop producer Jay Dee. And for his taut, skilled look back, Be is a near flawless album.

West fuses the boom-bap sound of Resurrection and the soulful instrumentation of Like Water for Chocolate to create his best work to date. The intro, “Be,” shows that this album is destined for greatness as West enlists a live bassist and the ubiquitous neo-soul arranger/keyboardist James Poyser. The upright bass slowly initiates the opening as Poyser’s soulful keys and West’s strings rise to meet Common’s voice. Other songs like “The Food” and “Real People” are so well-textured with carefully picked samples and well-blended melodies that it is clear that West pulled out all the stops to help build Common’s album.

Common is without a doubt a phenomenal lyricist, but Be also shows his creative talent as a performer. If he is given a track with incisive wah-wah guitars and hard-knocking drums like on “Chi City,” Common knows how to deliver crushing blows. His best performance, however, is on “Testify.” West’s drum kicks, congas and low-riding bassline help to form a tense atmosphere for Common’s elaborate depiction of a courtroom scene: “The judge yelled for order / Court reporter making her words shorter / His lawyer sat next to him.”

Whether Common has No I.D., Jay Dee or Kanye West as producers, he knows how to use his skill to make incredible hip hop. Be is evidence that he doesn’t just rhyme over random beats, he adapts to the music to create art.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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