Tuesday, July 31, 2007

At last, a decent rap album

He barely registers on the cultural radar, but Chicago-born rapper Common comfortably shifts a million copies every time he releases a CD.

You might have seen him in gangster movie Smokin' Aces (he plays henchman to mob supergrass Buddy "aces" Israel) but his music is as far from the gun-toting posturing of gangsta rap as it's possible to be without adorning Will Smith's big-toothed perma-grin.

"I feel as a black man, with so much going on in our community and being put down so much, we need spiritual encouragement," he told the Chicago Tribune this week. "Sometimes children don't get enough encouragement to live a healthy lifestyle."

His socially-concious lyrics deal with topics like urban violence, conflict diamonds, and (gasp!) love. It might sound terribly worthy but Common tempers it all with a sense of tabloidy humour - referencing Finding Nemo, Jennifer Aniston's breakup with Vince Vaughn and that music video with OK Go! dancing on a treadmill

It doesn't hurt, of course, that he's best buddies with Kanye West - who produced his last, Grammy-nominated, album, Be - and who returns on his latest release Finding Forever.

West gives the album an expansive, commercial sound, with some very recognisable samples (Nina Simone) and some big name pulling power (will.i.am and Lily Allen). The record doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, but tracks like The People, Drivin' Me Wild, and Break My Heart are among the best hip-hop you'll hear all year. Imagine Curtis Mayfield crossed with the laid-back, conversational style of Nas and you're half-way there.

Here's the video for The People:

You can also download the superb, Lily Allen-featuring, Drivin' Me Wild from Hipandpop.com.

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