On this day, May 23rd, in hip-hop history…
2005: Thirteen years and five albums immersed into his professional maturation as a deeply respected lyricist, the culmination of Common’s proficiency as an inspired narrator of the intricacies of everyday life was successfully presented in spectacular fashion on what would be his sixth and most significant studio album to date, Be.
Nearly three years removed from his fifth studio album, Electric Circus, which displayed an eccentric direction that was both unfamiliar and largely unpopular to his fans at the time, Common returned with conviction to a specific impassioned musical territory throughout the forty-two minute duration of Be. Accredited mostly to the refined and ambitious production of fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, who produced nine of the eleven tracks on the album (with J Dilla producing the other two), Common was reacquainted with a certain soulful sound that developed into the perfect musical companion for his mastery of introspective storytelling.
From a lyrical capacity, Be was entrenched with subject matter overflowing with sentiment. An album that can effortlessly be played in its entirety without disruption, Common displays an array of emotion throughout it and openly wears that emotion on his lyrical sleeve. He uses the eleven tracks on the album as one collective canvas to paint a lyrical picture of everything from poverty in the urban culture, to the power of embracing love, to the contrast of infidelity and faithfulness, while also spending time dissecting the lack of substance within hip-hop music at that time.
While only five of the eleven tracks (“The Food”, “The Corner”, “Go!”, “Testify” and “Faithful”) were released as singles and saw great success, every track on Be undoubtedly played a critical role in the overall prosperity of the album.
Instantly greeted with exceedingly positive reviews, Be debuted at #2 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart and eventually reached #1 on their Hip-Hop and Rap Charts as well. Along with countless other honors it received, including being nominated for a Grammy in 2006, having sold over 800,000 total copies, and being certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, Be is also only one of twenty-three albums in the history of XXL to be bestowed a perfect “XXL” rating.
If one theme is constant throughout the album, it’s that while Common is seemingly searching for his own serenity, he dearly encourages the listener to simply be present and aware in the moment themselves. That sincerity is exemplified best at the conclusion of the opening track, “Be (Intro)”, where he passionately expresses, “Never looking back or too far in front of me, the present is a gift, and I just want to be.”
What truly makes BE one of the most significant albums in the history of hip-hop, is that while it was certainly an album made to speak to the people, it ultimately developed into the undying voice of the people.—Michael Blair