Okayplayer/Geffen/Universal - 2005 - 48 minutes

'Be' begins with two simple notes played on a double bass.

It's a statement; a clear indication that the crazed experimentation and sprawling galaxy of guest stars of 'Electric Circus', Common's last release, are long gone

Instead, 'Be' is a tightly-constructed, focused set, with Common returning to more familiar paths.

That bass underpins 'Be's intro, and soon it is joined by lush keyboards and producer Kanye West's lush strings and beats, harking back to the glorious days of 1970s soul and the Philly Sound. The partnership between West and Common defines the album, with the College Dropout's note-perfect productions and occasional microphone appearance complementing Common's rhymes throughout.

The sound is summery and positive. The man himself is snapped close-up on the cover, grinning. It's dazzling.

The intro is faultless, the second track takes us down to 'The Corner', where West's trademark high-pitched soul samples make their first of many appearances. 'Go!' might not reach these stellar heights, but 'Faithful' amps up to previous levels of sweetness and elegance.

There's no end to the pleasure to be had from 'Be'; the twin MC assault of 'The Food' gives the lie to the thought that live hip-hop is always weak, while the sheer style of 'Love Is...' overcomes any doubts about its unrelenting positivity.

In a hip-hop world filled with wannabe players, it's deeply refreshing to see Common take on a different mantle: musicality, thoughtfulness, sensitivity even. For anyone who loved 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill', for anyone who misses the street-level jazz of A Tribe Called Quest, for anyone who likes the funk, 'Be' is a must. With a short running time of 48 minutes, there's
no filler, no longueurs and the quality level is consistently high.

He might be Common, but he's far from ordinary.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Be (Intro) - The Corner - Go! - Faithful - Testify - Love Is... - Chi City - The Food (Live) - Real People - They Say...