Few artists host listening sessions as well as Common. In between emanating deep Buddah vibes, dude lip syncs to every song, raises his fist whenever the word "black" is mentioned in his lyrics and tries to explain the actual meaning of each song...though he usually just ends up reciting at least one verse acapella to get his ideas across. The listening session for his upcoming album Finding Forever, due out in July, was held last week at Hollywood's Record Plant studio and featured special guest Kanye West. Common described West as "the thread" of the album, as he produced nine of the 11 tracks played. Mr West spent the majority of the time on a couch listening with his eyes closed. He would periodically interject his own point or approach Common at the mixing board with ideas for new embellishments to add to the songs. Which brings us to the point that the version of Finding Forever we heard was not in sequence, not mastered, and not entirely complete, but we're going to tell you all about it anyway after the jump.
Set to be Finding Forever's first single, "The People" begins with a chopped interplay between the sampled "Louder!" and "Yeah!" from Mountain's ultimate breakbeat jam "Long Red." Not long ago "Long Red" was sampled by J Dilla for De La Soul's "Verbal Clap" on The Grind Date. West said that during a meeting with Steven Spielberg. the director told him that he made the film AI in the way he imagined Stanley Kubrick would have told the story. West revealed that this inspired him to produce all his tracks on Finding Forever in the same way the recently departed Dilla would have, in tribute to him.
Another Kanye West production, the title of this song was taken from a song by Stevie Wonder and Syretta Wright and is about the problems that come once you've grown out of the circumstances you were born into. Repeat Common collaborator Bilal provided the vocals on the hook, furthering the album's reference point of classic soul.
"I Want You"
A track of electro love soul with sonic nods to Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See" and Audio Two's "Top Billin.'" "I write love songs, point blank and I ain't ashamed of it," said Common. Will.i.am whipped up the beat when he and Common were working on that song from the Gap commercial.
A shorter version of this song was released earlier this year when the Bears were in the Super Bowl. Hardly any attention is paid to hooks or catchiness, it's just bullet-spray lyrics from West and Common, who in the space of a couple lines compares himself to both James Baldwin and Kool G Rap.
"Driving Me Wild"
Featuring Lily Allen and produced by Kanye West. Our notes say something about it being "unhinged." We're not really sure what we meant.
"So Far To Go"
This one was produced by J Dilla and features D'Angelo. You should have heard it already when it was released on Dilla's posthumous album The Shining. You'd be surprised how many people at the listening session seemingly hadn't.
"Break My Heart"
Common had only recorded one verse for this storytelling piece that tracks a relationship from the initial flirtations to its end. "Breaking a girl's heart," said Common," sometimes it happens."
The use of Ahmad Jamal's "Swahililand" (as heard on De La Soul's "Stakes Is High") is an obvious nod to Dilla by West, but "The Game" also incorporates ’90s boom-bap hip-hop. The duo even brought in DJ Premier to scratch a chorus out of lines from OC's "Half Good, Half Sinner" : It's only right that I address this/ You gotta be in it to win it.
"Start The Show"
Slated as the album opener, the beat for "Start The Show" is much more dominating than most Common tracks, though West was sure to add some sparkle as it progresses. "Start The Show" features one of Common's patented putdowns of other rappers: "You was better as a drug dealer."
Produced by Devo Springsteen, West's cousin and collaborator, the song is introduced by a verse and chorus from a live Nina Simone performance of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." A cast of characters that commonly appear in Common songs find their way into the lyrics: the college girl gone wrong, the smart kid stuck on the corner, etc.
This is going to be the last song on our album and was probably our favorite, from it's military drums to afro-soul instrumental outro. Once it was over Common kept up his tradition and asked everyone in the room what they thought the best two tracks were. The most popular picks were "The People," "The Game," "Southside," and "Forever Begins." Common said his favorites were ""The People" and "Drivin Me Wild." West abstained.