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Something about the rhythm of Common's flow -- the way he phrases his intelligent rhymes -- turns his voice into an instrument. He started out as Common Sense, releasing two excellent albums filled with sparse beats and dizzying rhymes that were unusual exports from the pop-focused hip-hop scene in the Midwest. Though he's been pigeonholed as a mellow Jazz Rap minimalist, he's got enough consciousness-stirring lyrics to make a listener sit up and think as they nod to his thick grooves. The album that broke him was One Day It'll All Make Sense, a record with rich, organic beats that balanced his unorthodox vocal style. Touring with a live band (often the Roots) seasoned him for his next effort, Like Water For Chocolate. Stretching hip-hop's boundaries, Common has drawn on everything from thick, Fela Kuti-inspired afro-beat to jazzy live backing, with tracks produced by DJ Premier and the Soulquarians (including drummer/mastermind ?uestlove and singer/keyboardist D'Angelo). In 2002, his sound grew considerably more experimental, and the Jay Dee-produced Electric Circus somewhat alienated fans of his earlier material. After taking a few years to regroup, Common returned triumphantly with Be, teaming up with fellow Chi-town native Kanye West for an exceptional back-to-basics album that many critics have hailed as a modern classic.
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