The Quotable Reviews: Finding Forever

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the C-O-Double-M-O-N. / Synonym for "Fresh." Truth is the emblem" - Common: "Start The Show"; Finding Forever

I can't front - as soon as the release date was announced for Common's 7th studio album, Finding Forever, The Company Man was amped.

And for good reason.

Over the past 15 years since the artist formerly known as Common Sense kicked in Hip Hop's door with his debut album, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, "Chi-Town's Nas" has continued to evolve - showcasing carniverous lyricism ("Communism"), vivid storytelling ("Testify"), and a trunk load of love raps all along the way (even if you don't know Common by name, chances are you've grooved to one of his now staple "baby-I-love-you" rhymes vibin' through your factory speakers). Never one to fall victim to creative complacency, Comm always pushed the envelope to the brink of breach with each studio release. But it wasn't until 2005's, critically acclaimed Lp, BE, that Common proved (with the aid of uber-producer/emcee Kanye West) that he could in fact create a complete album. Concise, commanding, and loaded with break-neck beats, BE, was the near-perfect combination of production and proverbs (its almost as if 'Ye and Comm were trying to one-up each other the entire time - to see who would shine more - the artist or the producer. In the end it was a draw...and one helluvan album). BE was so good in fact, that in some circles Comm's name found its way into several whose-the-greatest-of-all-time? conversations. Justified or not, Common finally made it mainstream. His stock price was at an all-time high. And one more solid album could be enough to lock him in with exclusive company. Would Finding Forever be that key? Lets take a listen.

Finding Forever opens with whispy flutes, and corny keys totalling 1 minute and 17 seconds of wasted space. No rhymes. No beats. No point. (On the plus side, this in a way serves as the albums only interlude. Silver lining). The show finally starts with (appropriately) "Start the Show." Showcasing live string recordings (violas, violins, cellos...the works) over knocking drums and snare, this cut contains some of the albums coldest rhymes ("with 12 monkeys on stage its hard to see whose a gorilla. / You was better as a drug dealer. / Feel the passion of this B-Boy rationale. / Half is what you say, and half is style. Guess its time for you start cashin' out"). "The People" picks up where "The Corner" (BE) left off - funky Kanye West produced bass-line + Common's flawless delivery = (you guessed it) lead single. 'Ye carries the hook here...once again. The Lily Allen assisted "Drivin' Me Wild" is undoubtedly the album's brightest track. Comm is at his best here, spittin' three blazin' verses opining on the lure of acceptance and the extent people will go to obtain it. Storytelling at its finest. Will.I.Am makes a notable appearance on "I Want You" (production and hook by the Black Eyed Pea himself) while Common delivers more detailed relationship rhymes. 'Ye steps from behind the boards and joins Comm in the booth on "Southside" where the duo dual 8 bars at a time in an ill cypher session showcasing both Chicago lyricist head-to-head (this is what Hip Hop is all about, muttaskuttas!). Both Emcees bring the ruckus on this one ("ain't nothin' wrong with that!"). DJ premiere shows up on "The Game" adding his classic scratches over more Kanye boom-bap production. Another stand-out track.

"I said I got my SAG card baby. I'm an actor." - Common: "Break My Heart"; Finding Forever

Unfortunately, the second half of Finding Forever veers into mundane teritory. Don't get me wrong, Comm's content is still ever present. "Black Maybe's" discussion on the fate of the "black man, woman, and child" is a beautiful song, and definitely needed in today's Hip Hop landscape (especially from a newly-mainstream-artist...too bad you'll never hear it on the radio), and D'Angelo's rehabilitated guest appearance on "So Far To Go" mashes perfectly with (more) Common relationship rhymes. Not to mention that both Devo Springstein and Kanye West straight decimate the boards on "Misunderstood" and "Break My Heart" respectively. Its just that the whole vibe of the second half of the Lp crawls itself to sleep. The combination of heavy content (dope as it may be) and mello production back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back wears on a muttaskutta. Its like getting stuck watchin' white-church on TV (ironically enough) - you don't know whether to switch tracks, or take a nap. You can't even clean the crib when listenin' to the back half of Finding Forever. And if you're driving at night, you better pump the A/C, roll the windows down, and grab a Mountain Dew or you just might fall asleep at the wheel. FACT. All you want to do is sit. Not that thats a bad thing.

(The album is better when rocked on random, though).

Overall, Finding Forever is undoubtedly one of the best albums released in 2007. I can't deny it. Common's flawless delivery and common man sensibilities over Kanye West's stellar production is enough to appease nearly anyone with ears. And at a lean 11 tracks in length, its juuust short enough to stay fresh.

With that being said...

There are certain qualities that I've come to admire about the artist formerly known as Common Sense. Most notably - his drive to continue to grow and progress as an artist. Everytime a Common album dropped you knew it was gonna be Fresh...and a different kind of Fresh than his previous album. He always gave you something different without ever slacking lyrically (even his most eccentric album, Electric Circus, (during the Erykah-Badu-voodoo'd era of his career) was packed with dope rhymes despite the questionable soundtrack. No doubt). Com consistently pushed himself with every release - which is why a lot of heads started raising his name in whose-the-greatest-of-all-time? debates. He's been doin' it at a very high level for a very long time.

But Finding Forever sounds less fresh-and-new and more like BE-part-2...just not as good. The similarities are eyebrow-raising. "The People" sounds just like "The Corner" and was marketed in the same fashion. "Southside" is an ill cypher rhyme about Chicago. "Chi-City" is an ill cypher rhyme about Chicago. And both albums end with a poem from his father, Lonnie "Pops" Lynn (I know its a moving gesture and all, but still an overkill. Slap him somewhere in the middle of the album at least. Mix it up a bit). Ironically the beginning of the poem starts with "...well, well, well / here we are back in the studio again." I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Through all its dopeness it feels like a re-tread. Its like Comm and 'Ye gathered up all of BE's leftover tracks, re-worked a few, added some guest appearances, and sold it like new. I mean...technically its still new, but its like the new generic brand. Its like the Voit version of Air Jordans. Its like Chucks without the Converse logo. You know what its trying to be... but its not official.

"I said I got my SAG card baby. I'm an actor." - Common: "Break My Heart"; Finding Forever

Comm definitely phoned-in this one. I know he has a burgeoning film career ahead of him[1] and a lifetime supply of "basics" from his GAP sponsorship, and thats great. Get your money, Jo. Theres a recession in the music industry right now anyway. But let me know now if making albums has taken a back seat to other ventures. I mean, you'll still get my $10 bucks...but next time it'll be a movie ticket.

Rating: QQQ

[1] I haven't seen Smoking Aces, but my man Denell says he "was good...almost like a convincing actor." With that kind of review I'm sure he as bright future in Hollywood)

Carry on...


Anonymous said...

I see you're back, nice.

The Company Man said...

"Back like a brassiere hook"...