Common spent the '90s carrying the Native Tongues torch through an era dominated by gangsta rap, earning a sizable underground following. Positive-minded alternative rap came back into vogue by the new millennium, and Common managed to land with major label MCA for 2000's Like Water for Chocolate. The album established him as a leading figure of alternative rap's second generation, not just because of the best promotion he'd ever had, but also because it was his great musical leap forward, building on the strides of One Day It'll All Make Sense. There's production work by the Roots' ?uestlove, neo-soul auteur D'Angelo, the Soulquarians, and DJ Premier. But the vast majority of the album was handled by Slum Village's Jay Dee, and his thick, mellow, soul- and jazz-inflected sonics make Like Water for Chocolate one of the richest-sounding albums of the new underground movement. Common isn't always a master technician on the mic, but it hardly matters when the music serves his deeply spiritual vision and smooth-flowing raps so effectively. The singles "The Light" and "The 6th Sense" are quintessential Common, uplifting and thoughtful, and helped bring him a whole new audience. They're well complemented by the slinky, jazzy funk and lush neo-soul ballads that make up the record. Not everything is sweetness and utopia, either; Common sends up his own progressive image on "A Film Called (Pimp)," which features a hilarious guest appearance by MC Lyte, and spins a gripping first-person tale of revenge on the streets on "Payback Is a Grandmother" (though the tougher "Dooinit" feels a bit forced). The album could have been trimmed a bit to keep its momentum going, but on the whole, Like Water for Chocolate is a major statement from an artist whose true importance was just coming into focus.
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
feat: Macy Gray