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COMMON, Finding Forever, Geffen
This CD has the honor and the misfortune of being the first to get the old A-side, B-side treatment since the cassette tape era ended. Right away, the first seven tracks were on instant repeat, setting the stage for another Common classic. The problem? This album has 12. As much as I liked 1-7, it took a long time to work the final five into the rotation. And when I let it roll often enough, it became apparent why. The second half is really laid back. Almost too laid back for my tastes, especially after listening to the first half. But once I finally felt real chill and rediscovered these tracks separately, it was like unearthing a lost Common album I'd wished I'd listened to more. One that strangely would seem to fit better between Chocolate and Be than Electric Circus did. And trust me, the ladies love it more than Cool J, who after all is the pioneer of the softer side of hip-hop. It's not bad music at all, just a sudden change of pace that you're not prepared for if you're trying to digest the full disc. It slows down to the point that you get the urge to go back to an earlier track to get fired back up. The first single, "The People," gets the job done every time. It's garden-variety Common that you might find on any album -- and that, of course, is a very good thing. On it, he boasts that "my daughter found Nemo, I found the new Primo" in Kanye West, but of course the original DJ Premier shows up later on "The Game." The Kanye-Common combo pays off big once again, nowhere better than on "Southside." The two trade metaphors and pop culture references, bringing out the best in each other. Although West -- who must be dropping "Back to the Future" lines into his lyrics to explain the glasses -- once again does most of the beats, the Native Tongue influences are many. Black Sheep's "Similak Child" sample is recycled on "Drivin' Me Wild" featuring Lily Allen. "I Want You" features a "Tribe-al" beat reminiscent of "Jazz" by Quest. And "Start the Show" is a critique of the industry without a Rule No. 4080 reference. There are plenty of tributes to other legends, from Jay-Z to MC Ren to Public Enemy, which is appropriate since Common is consistently finding ways to cement his place among them. Chicago's finest, he should be wearing a checkered cap. We've made exceptions in the past for one misfire on an otherwise great album. In this case, Common's missing the one up-tempo song in the second half that would keep the mood even enough for consistent one-sitting listens. As it is, Finding Forever just gets too mellow late. But we'll let the sum of the parts win over the whole just this once.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

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