Pros: Best songs rival any in his catalogue.
Cons: Kanye's attempts at imitating J Dilla's sound fall flat.
Bottom Line: Inconsistent album is weighed down by too many
dreary and forgettable songs.
"So Far To Go"
Common explains his new album’s title (“Finding Forever”) on its final lines: "It was in the wind when she said Dilla was gone / That's why I know we live forever through song."
J Dilla, a legendary underground producer and one of Common's longtime collaborators, died last year after a long struggle with a rare blood disease. And although he only produced one track, his presence is felt throughout — Kanye West, who produced the majority of the album, made a conscious effort to imitate Dilla's distinct neo-soul sound.
In that sense, "Finding Forever" sounds like what you’d expect of a Common album. And though lead-off single "The People" and epic closing opus "Forever Begins" prove he hasn't lost his edge, the album's familiarity is a little disappointing.
Not only has Common rapped on J Dilla-esque beats since 2000's "Like Water for Chocolate," but West's ubiquity makes it feel like a less inspired reprise of 2005's "Be." Worse many of his stories – a ballplayer caught in the hood, a stripper dreaming of a better life – feel as stale as the beats.
Just because music isn't top-100 oriented doesn't make it deep – too often Common and West aim for serious and end up sounding pretentious. The album comes alive when they stop taking themselves so seriously, especially on “Southside”, the Chicago anthem where they trade whimsical rhymes over a hard-hitting guitar lick.
Not surprisingly, the Dilla-inspired album sounds best on the one Dilla-produced track ("So Far To Go") where the evocative and understated instrumentation blend beautifully with the D'Angelo assisted vocals. Subtlety has never been West's strong point, and his attempts at aping Dilla's restrained sound ("Black Maybe," "Break My Heart") are dreary and forgettable.
Common made classics with J Dilla (2000's "The Light"), but time always marches forward, and if he wants to continue making timeless music he can't keep looking back.