July 31, 2022

Common - Finding Forever (July 31, 2007)

Finding Forever, the seventh album from the Chicago denizen Lonnie “Common” Lynn, was released in 2007, but even though a mere two-year break separates it from its predecessor, 2005’s Be, the changes in the man’s career during that timeframe contain multitudes, all of which are attributed to one place: Hollywood. Although Common had dabbled with acting in tiny roles before, mostly on sitcoms and the like, he snagged his first feature film role in 2006 (in Joe Carnahan’s ensemble bounty hunter action thriller Smokin’ Aces, which featured a shit ton of recognizable names) and hasn’t looked back since. Whether that’s to the benefit or detriment of cinema is wholly dependent on whether or not you believe he acts exactly the same way in everything he appears in, but his filmography isn’t on trial here.

We’re supposed to be talking about Finding Forever anyway.

Finding Forever
was Common’s second project to be released under fellow Chi-Town influencer Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music banner. It followed the blueprint of his previous effort, the critically-acclaimed gold-selling Be, so closely that many hip hop heads were quick to dismiss it as Be², although that isn’t the worst project to emulate, specifically because of those “critically-acclaimed” and “gold-selling” things. Be was produced almost entirely by West, whose growing popularity within the industry served as its own promotion for a project that critics felt was a much-needed return to form for Lonnie, whose prior effort, Electric Circus, remains a bewildering left turn in his catalog, one only challenged by what would be his next album, Universal Mind Control. I can appreciate that Common isn’t one to keep recording the exact same song and that he wants to keep things interesting for himself, but even he realized that Electric Circus was a bridge too far. Finding Forever still features mostly Ye beats, with the gaps filled by the late Detroit producer extraordinaire J. Dilla (whose work was also used for the two lone tracks West didn’t handle on Be), the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, and Devo Springsteen, but the goal here wasn’t another comeback story. Instead, Finding Forever is somehow more soulful than its progenitor, yet less focused, since Common was, as mentioned above, fully immersed in the filmmaking world, writing and recording here and there whenever he had a free moment.

Both Ye and Common looked at Finding Forever as their opportunity to pay their respects to the late Dilla, with West’s beats formed mostly with looped-up chops from other musical genres in an effort to replicate the man’s sound. The other producers featured fail to follow suit, leading to an occasionally disjointed listening experience, but the spotlight shines on Common the entire time, as the guest list here is relatively sparse, featuring only one guest rapper (West himself) and several crooners standing by to lend their talents to a hook or two.

Finding Forever wound up performing just as well as Be at the box office, which, unfortunately, merely led to even more comparisons between the two projects, with critics chastising the album’s sound even as they praised Be for walking a similar path. It was even nominated for several Grammy awards, just as its predecessor was, although this time around it managed to collect one. Not the one for Best Rap Album, however – in an ironic turn of events, Common lost out on that award to Kanye West himself, whose Graduation took home the prize and was, and is still, generally the better project.


Producer-slash-musician Derrick Hodge provides an instrumental intro for Finding Forever. Lonnie doesn’t make any sort of appearance, for those of you two in the audience wondering.

Hodge’s brief instrumental leads into the appropriately-titled-for-being-the-first-song-on-the-album “Start the Show”, our maiden Kanye West production voyage of the evening. West’s is also the first voice heard on Finding Forever, as the track begins with his filtered vocals performing the hook, the way he ends the chorus with a Kanye shrug-like “you know” offering flashbacks of a simpler era, back when Yeezy was focused on the music and not the performative religious theater that seems to dominate his career today. His Dilla impression behind the boards for “Start the Show” isn’t bad, either, although the chop of this particular version of “The Windmills of Your Mind” he loops up underneath Common’s two verses (and the song outro, kind of) feels much weaker when compared to the RZA-esque darkness that Ye rides shotgun with during the hook. Lyrically, Common isn’t very impressive here (“I been a master since P was No Limit-ing” and “Verses touch the youth like a Catholic priest” are examples of the shrewder bars present here, and that isn’t saying much), his boasting and bullshitting faltering thanks to the lack of support the instrumental offers to him. I’ll say this: when I’m listening to a Common song but impatiently waiting for Kanye West to pop back up, because I know that’s when the beat will become exponentially better, that’s a huge fucking problem for Common, am I right?

A much more polished Dilla impersonation occurs on “The People”, on which Ye threads together multiple seemingly-unrelated looped segments into a cohesive instrumental. If this song were originally intended for a J. Dilla tribute project, as the Interweb claims, then I’m not sure why Common felt this to be the perfect opportunity to praise Kanye West as “the new Preemo” multiple times, but whatever. (I’m also not certain the Ye of today would receive that as the compliment it was intended as.) Lonnie’s conscious boasts-n-bullshit dominate the track, with guest crooner Dwele barely chiming in during his portion of the hook, and it’s awfully engaging, if not a perfect piece of entertainment. “My raps ignite the people like Obama,” Common says at one point, and come on, my guy, relax, but our host does sound good over these loops. Your mileage may vary when it comes to the vocal sample that intrudes upon the performances every four bars or so, but on the other hand, that’s part of what makes this a tribute to Dilla, and while it was jarring at first, it grew on me rather quickly, as it has a good number of you two, I’d bet.

British songstress Lily Allen’s perky conversational flow fits nicely over Ye’s sampled loop for “Drivin’ Me Wild”, although I was left wishing that she played a larger role here. (If you listen closely enough, you can also hear Kanye himself singing the hook, most likely in a reference track role.) Common uses this catchy instrumental to fill the listener in on what makes both halves of the relationship depicted here tick, delivering some corny-as-fuck bars (“Be on the treadmill… like OK Go”? I get their music video went viral, but that’s not a good enough excuse to name-drop them in a rap song) while doing so. Lonnie sounds fine here, the collaborative pairing here seemingly inspiring him to turn in a fun performance, one that eventually ties into what Allen is singing about in the final verse, as our host decries seemingly romantic relationships where one or both parties are Doing Too Much in the quest for marital bliss, and while it doesn’t entirely work, the journey is entertaining enough. I can see why the label released “Drivin’ Me Wild” as a single, although I will admit I’m mystified as to how they didn’t also license this one to multiple ad agencies given how fucking catchy the Kanye West beat is.

The first instrumental not coming from Kanye West (not counting the rap album intro) blindsides the listener, as the extended Dilla impression has been abandoned for a bottle of shiny silver polish. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however: Lonnie’s breakup song, while chock full of saccharine, feels much more mature and reasonable when partnered with the smooth, Bob James-sampling will.i.am instrumental (which also manages to work in the Skull Snaps breakbeat toward the end, a nice touch). William’s vocals during the chorus don’t sound like they were generated by him at all, which makes “I Want You” that much more aurally pleasing: those of you in the reading audience wondering if this sounds like a shitty Black Eyed Peas song, trust me, it does not. It sucks that Common didn’t trust the listener to know what he was talking about here, ending his first verse with a fucking anvil in the form of a direct mention of the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston flick The Break Up, because the rest of what he does here is quite enjoyable, depressing but hopeful. Our host doesn’t exactly sound genuine to me, but I’m a jaded motherfucker so I’m not the demo he’s trying to appeal to here. Still thought this sounded pretty good, however.

There are only two tracks I could easily recall from Finding Forever prior to today’s write-up, and the Grammy Award-winning “Southside” is one of them, although not because of the alleged boost in popularity it would have enjoyed post-ceremony. (I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard “Southside” played on the radio.) I remember liking this one because it’s simply fun, a throwback to an era when Kanye West was still an asshole, but one who liked amusing himself, as opposed to the guy who walks around today wearing oversized everything, fucking starlets and models while cursing Pete Davidson’s name and whatnot. Nah, this Kanye West had jokes – they were corny and, in the case of his extended Back to the Future riff on “Southside”, a bit of a reach, but they were still jokes. His back and forth with our host over the looped guitar riff is engaging as hell, both participants sounding excited to not just be here, but to be performing alongside one another, and they bounce off one another well. “Southside” doesn’t sound like anything from Be, as there is no soulful element here, unless one counts the producer’s shitty high-pitched singing toward the end, but there was no need for these two to go back to that particular well anyway. “Back in ’94 they called me Chi-Town’s Nas / Now them n----s know I’m one of Chi-Town’s gods,” Common offers on this tribute to the south side of the Windy City, his home turf, and given his performance here, it’s difficult to debate him. “Southside” also hits pretty hard today, albeit for more nostalgic reasons, at least on my part.

Here’s the other track I remembered from back in the day. Had completely forgotten that they both popped up smack in the middle of Finding Forever, back-to-back like a print ad for a terrible multi-camera sitcom built around a married couple where she’s a tough-talking lawyer in the big city and he’s a stay-at-home cat dad from the sticks. “The Game” alters the Dilla formula by adding an additional layer of boom bap a la DJ Premier, and, surprise surprise, Preemo himself pops in to provide scratches, but as this was one of the earliest examples of Preemo being invited to contribute to a track without one of his own beats being a part of the agreement, it’s understandable if you feel this track was underwhelming. (Or maybe it was because of the sheer volume of O.C. vocal samples scratched in during Preemo’s hook. I can see that also being an issue in some circles.) I feel “The Game” is better than I remember it being, Ye’s beat connecting more often than not even though it could have used much harder drums. Lonnie, an artist who has rapped over an actual DJ Premier instrumental, plays along as though Ye’s impersonation was dead-on, turning in three verses of shit-talk that marry his conscious observations with some grimy street shit rather well. “I never kissed the ass of the masses / I’m the black molasses / Thick, and I lasted past these rat bastards,” he opens his second verse with, and the guy sounds so much better than he should have. If the boom bap gods ever returned Lonnie’s phone calls, I’d bet Common would have something ready for them. Also, does anyone think Premier enjoys these “scratching only” guest spots more than he does producing for other artists? Because he seems to book far more of them these days.

Represents Kanye West at his most Dillatastic, although that is meant to be a compliment, as his beat for “U, Black Maybe” is quite fucking great. Over a soulful series of looped segments, Lonnie describes the Black experience from the point of view of a fictional “crack baby” (it’s weird that we have yet to come up with another phrase for that, right?) that tries to find both happiness and success even though the “they” guest crooner Bilal sings about during the chorus are “gonna wanna bring you down”, and it’s depressing as fuck, not because of our host’s performance (which is pretty good), but because we’ve reached the much more serious part of the Finding Forever program, where Common’s observational eye for societal ills doesn’t flinch when presented with tragedy. “It’s hard to turn on the hood that made you / To leave, we afraid to / The same streets that raised you can age you,” our host says, summing up “U, Black Maybe” in a few clipped sentences. Both Common and Bilal match Kanye’s energy, providing somber performances with the faintest hint of hope, one that isn’t shattered when Lonnie delivers a spoken word outro that merely underscores the track’s theme. Runs on the longer side of things, but you won’t notice or care all that much.

May trigger a bit of whiplash, not simply because the instrumental, from the actual J. Dilla, fails to complement the surrounding tracks, but because you two may recognize the instrumental, if not from the late producer’s Donuts project, then from The Shining, an album released a year prior that housed an alternate version of “So Far To Go” with the same participants, but a different performance from Common. I understand why our host would want to include a beat from the man when Finding Forever is essentially an album-length tribute to his impact on our chosen culture, but what I didn’t understand is why he would throw in what amounts to a previously-released song, albeit one with newer lyrics. Crooner D’Angelo’s hook remains unchanged, as does the instrumental, which is a slightly brighter mix but otherwise exactly the fucking same. Lonnie tries his damnedest to spit game to an unidentified woman (his “most / Important, at least on the West Coast”, always a fine way to tell a partner that you adore them), and it just rang hollow for me, which is disappointing considering the project this song is found on. The actual music still sounds fucking fantastic to me, but I could have done without this alternate take. Yeah, I said it.

Terrible and bizarre. Kanye West’s chopped sample-laden instrumental isn’t bad, although it does get repetitive, but Lonnie’s performance is kind of fucking trash. On “Break My Heart”, he tells a tale about wanting to be with a girl until he has her, and reiterating The Seven-Year Itch isn’t the worst idea for a rap song, but the execution is severely lacking here. His flow is cocky, but that vibe wasn’t earned here, especially when part of the courtship dance involves a slightly homophobic line for no goddamned reason. (Between this song and his cameo on De La Soul’s “The Bizness”, it would seem like Common takes issue with certain, ahem, lifestyles, but it would be downright silly to draw conclusions based on a mere two examples, right?) Lonnie sounds fucking terrible on “Break My Heart”, quickly torpedoing a decent Dilla impression of a beat with cheesy cliches and observations that could have come from a fucking fourth grader (“What happens to me happens to lots of men / Get deep in love and then you’re needing some oxygen” – ugh). Fuck this song straight to Hell.

Produced by Kanye’s cousin Devo Springsteen, who may or may not have been the cousin that stole and sold Ye’s laptop that contained his sex tape, at least according to The Life of Pablo’s “Real Friends”, “Misunderstood” rides an extended bite from Nina Simone’s cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” which, given that source material, sounds appropriately moody and dramatic, a relatively perfect musical backdrop for Common’s two tales. Or at least it could have been, had our host not sounded disengaged from the entire process, his bars relaying cliché-riddled stories of a young guy caught up in the drug game to his detriment (which does include the line, “He on the ground, he could feel God touching him,” which I did like, to be fair) and an aspiring actress that turns to stripping and winds up overdosing on “powder”, neither of whom feel like real people in the slightest bit. “Misunderstood” feels like Common took a couple of characters from a screenplay he just happened to have in his top right desk drawer and adapted them for this very song by making sure the lines all rhymed, and it’s simply dull, definitely not what Nina deserved. Le sigh. Lonnie coasts on the whole “Chi-Town’s Nas” thing here, forgetting that people won’t necessarily listen if he has nothing new to offer.

Before we get to Common’s standard rap album outro featuring his father’s thoughts, we first have to sit through “Forever Begins”, the final Kanye West instrumental of the evening, and it is a boring one. Common sounded alright, though, the antithesis of whatever the fuck he was trying to pull off on “Misunderstood”: on here, his commentary on society and civil rights, mixed together with a brief tribute to Dilla toward the end, flows much more comfortably here even though, ironically, the musical backing feels like store-brand Yeezy. Not a whole lot to say about this one, except that it’s way too fucking long for this sort of thing. You’ll already know whether or not you’ll like Lonnie’s father’s contribution without ever having to listen to it based on your reaction to every time he’s popped up at the end of his son’s other projects. And we’re done.

The following is included as a bonus track on copies of Finding Forever released outside of the United States.

Lifted from the soundtrack to Smokin’ Aces, a film Common co-starred in and even name-drops in this very song in the corniest way (within a verse written as an extended poker metaphor that is, in a word, laughable), “Play Your Cards Right” doesn’t feel like an actual song, at least when one accounts for Bilal’s simplistic-to-a-fault hook, which plays as a placeholder for something much more elaborate that somehow never got recorded. Producer Karriem Riggins lends our host a horn-heavy instrumental that sounds triumphant, if incomplete, and Common obliges by turning in some throwaway garbage that isn’t terrible, exactly, but if you had told me that no, this wasn’t the same person that recorded and released “I Used To Love H.E.R.” thirteen years prior, I would have believed you, because there is no real way to explain how Lonnie had fallen this far. However, the simpler explanation is that the dude was just excited to make his film debut, and his mind was elsewhere when he wrote “Play Your Cards Right”, which is just as feasible as my theory, which is that he momentarily forgot how to do this shit because he was Men In Black’d just before entering the studio.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Finding Forever isn’t the best Common album, nor is it his worst. What it is not, however, is Be². Many heads consider Be to, er, be Common’s finest hour, a culmination of everything he had done in his career up to that point, and there just wasn’t any possible way that Finding Forever was going to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time. So get that shit out of your head right now. If you enjoyed Be, as most hip hop fanatics did, you won’t get the same feeling from Finding Forever.

That isn’t altogether a bad thing, however. There’s at least a handful of highlights to be found here, all of which are housed within the first two-thirds of the album. The guest spots from Ye, Lily Allen, will.i.am, Bilal, and Dwele all complement their respective tracks nicely, and although Lonnie’s bars are all over the place thematically, he sounds like he’s enjoying himself for the most part, the pressures of the music industry having been lifted as he tried to locate his muse in Hollywood. His flow is mostly relaxed, but dominant, and his performances have an easygoing quality to them even when he’s trying to share something important with the audience.

The biggest problem with Finding Forever comes in its third act, which is just fucking ridiculously bad. This is the point where the Dilla tributes fall apart (which is strange, since this is also the part of the album that includes a legitimate Dilla beat), where Common suddenly remembers his membership in the Conscious Rapper Guild are due and, pointedly, tries to pass off cliché-riddled storytelling bars and poorly-worded musical come-ons as “entertainment” when they’re anything but. These tracks (and I’m including the overseas bonus song in this bunch) are comprised of some of the worst Common has ever released, a shame considering some of the sample sources, and they are virtually unlistenable. I found them so off-putting that my earlier praise has been diluted significantly, because this level of musical cognitive dissonance is enough for me to put this disc back in a box for eternity.

Obviously a lot of people, especially those in the Recording Academy, disagree with me, but you came here for my opinion, and the way I see it, Finding Forever had honorable intentions, but Common’s scattershot focus led to its downfall, wasting Kanye West beats (produced while the man was in his prime, mind you) on inane whims and desires, which doesn’t make for good music (and yeah, I see what I did there). Hell, you two may find my comments on the album’s first eight tracks to be a bit too kind. I’m just trying to find the good where I can: the world is an ongoing nightmare, and we all deserve a break from reality. You just won’t find it here, unfortunately.

BUY OR BURN? “Burning” doesn’t make much sense given the prevalence of streaming in this era, but I’m keeping the template in honor of my past self. Streaming Finding Forever would be the low-risk option, although sticking with the tracks listed below may give you the impression that this project is better than it is. Trust me, it isn’t.

BEST TRACKS: “Southside”; “The Game”; “I Want You”; ”Drivin’ Me Wild”


Catch up with the man they call Common (Sense) by clicking here


  1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2022

    Common is that artist I just never had interest to check out. I always liked The People single and know that I Used to Love H.E.R. was a historical and respected song in hip hop. Seemed like a guy who peaked in the 90s and made positive conscious rap that sounded boring to me growing up. I also assumed Universal Mind Control wasn't worth looking into since the single was middle of the road. Since then I haven't heard much outside of his Drake diss.

    I just looked at his discography and don't even recall the albums after UMC coming out. Let me know if I should give Common a try because this album isn't selling me based on your review.

    1. 2016 or something, he dropped Black America Again. I think that's probably his best post-UMC.

  2. Great review Max. Yes I thought the third act fell over too.

    Always found "I want you" to be a guilty pleasure.

    This was one of the first hip hop albums I ever bought. Got it in Toronto I think.

    Not sure this quite deserves a purchase, although the point is moot with the advent of Spotify. "The people" fucking bangs though.


  3. Never got into Common he just seems really boring like there’s no gimmick