Kanye West's stamp of approval is all over Be, which he produced in addition to making several cameo appearances. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- it certainly makes Chi-town's urban poet laureate's sometimes abstract leanings noticeably more accessible. Now an elder statesman of rap music (with a résumé stretching back to the now-fabled mid-'90s), Common seems more focused than ever, still forcing listeners to hang on every word, but with a cocky, slightly radical defiance that effectively contrasts his "conscious" persona. The game need a makeover/My man retired/I'm-a take over, he boasts on "Chi-City," but Be is much deeper than simple Jay-Z comparisons. Its jewel, "The Corner," effortlessly weaves the Last Poets' sociopolitical musings on urban life between modern updates from Com and Kanye, creating a continuum of dialogue that not only transcends time and space, but bridges the gap between the Black Power and Hip-Hop generations.

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