Common

Finding Forever

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In "The People," Common rhymes "My daughter found Nemo/I found the new Primo," yet it is the late J Dilla -- not DJ Premier -- who is emulated by Kanye West throughout Finding Forever. Dilla's 2006 death has had Common and Kanye not just grieving but further contemplating the making of music that outlasts their time on the planet. This lends a kind of heaviness, a level of seriousness, and a sometimes overbearing sense of "What we are doing here is intended to be important," not present on 2005's Be -- a taut and steady album with an unforced and seemingly less conceptualized liquid flow. This time out, Kanye adopts a "What would Dilla do?" approach to his productions. (As on Be, most of the tracks feature his handiwork, with some duties farmed out to others.) Though the intentions are good, it's an audacious move: idiosyncratic and often brilliant producer attempts to channel the creativity of a master who constantly switched up his game. It doesn't help Kanye's cause that the album's sweetest track is the Dilla-produced "So Far to Go" (heard in original form on Dilla's The Shining), sandwiched between two Kanye beats that can be tuned out with no effort. There are some subtle references to Dilla, and while it's perfectly acceptable that no outright mimicry is going on, the majority of the beats are slightly substandard, at least by Kanye standards. Common delivers plenty of lyrical potency, whether he's mixing the sad with the silly ("Doin' all she can for her man and her baby, drivin' herself crazy like the astronaut lady") or dishing out some serious Nas-worthy disdain ("With 12 monkeys on-stage, it's hard to see who's a gorilla -- you was better as a drug dealer"). Sometimes, though, he's only providing more ammo for those who still maintain that his best album is his less than didactic debut, like the Cosby-in-training "He had a fetish for shoes that's athletic/Pathetic on his MySpace page half-naked." The album includes a handful of well-placed and effectual guest contributors including Bilal, Dwele, Lily Allen, Common's dad, and the one and only Primo. Still, it's a shade less satisfying than Be.

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