Common’s sixth solo LP Be was instantly anointed a masterpiece when it dropped in 2005. Powered by Kanye West and J Dilla’s soulful instrumentals, the album revived Com after his Electric Circus proved too experimental for his fans. There’s dramatic storytelling (“Testify”), chest-beating bravado (“Chi City”) substance (“Real People”) and something smooth for the radio (“Go”). With Be ranking at number 44 on our 50 Greatest Albums Since ’93 list, the storied lyricist sat down to briefly recap his 11-track classic. —John Kennedy
VIBE: What do you remember when you think back to the zone you were in when you made Be?
Common: I was zoned in on making something very special. It was the first time Kanye and I hooked up on a album. First song I did with Kanye, he was working in the studio producing beats on somebody else’s studio time and when I walked in, he had this beat and it sounded like the beat was made for me. I said, “Man, whose beat is that?” He was like, “Yours, hurry up.” That was the beginning; that song was called “The Food.” We did it on Chapelle’s Show.
What was it like working with Ye on virtually a full project?
It was so hip-hop for us. We was just digging through the crates, getting beats, chopping. He made me grow, ‘cause he was like, “Naw, rewrite that” or “Man, them raps was good on there, don’t change.” I be in the studio wanting to rap thirty times and he’d be like, “That take was good, what are you doing?” I just remember the times were special because we were both excited to work with each other, enthused and inspired. It was the first time I did an album that was instantly labeled a classic.
There have been debates among your fans about whether Be is better than Finding Forever. What’s your take?
I like Be better. It was more complete, there weren’t a lot of songs and I don’t think of one song as just a filler. They might’ve added another color to it, it might not have been a single but it was still something to just add some dimension to the album. But I’m glad that people can argue that. At the end of the day, it’s great to have any album that people can label as a classic. But for them to say maybe Finding Forever was more classic than Be, that’s a win for me. I’m grateful.