Common is Chicago’s ambassador of soul. Over the course of eight albums, the Midwest maestro of jazzy hip-hop has carried the Native Tongues torch into the 21st century. The spiritual funk of his last two records, Be and Finding Forever, both masterfully produced by Kanye West, solidified his Sam Cook-meets-A-Tribe-Called-Quest style. And yet Common’s new album bridges bigger gaps.
The title track is actually a throwback to the originator of over-glossed, futuristic dance-rap — Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.” As helpfully explained in a recent Microsoft commercial, Bambaataa was an enormous influence on producers such as the Neptunes, whom Common tapped to make most of this record. Yet the result is not necessarily the retro-rap breakthrough it should be. Common awkwardly scores chicks on the Timbaland-style dance mix “Sex 4 Suga,” and he invites Cee-Lo to “Make My Day” on what sounds like a Gnarls Barkley b-side. The disc’s crowning moment is the lounge anthem “Announcement,” which sizzles but doesn’t compare to Common’s greater accomplishments, such as 2005’s “The Corner.”