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Common grounded 

Music artist Common says he's come a long way since "drinking 40 ounces, talking about getting girls --- you know, raw hip-hop."

"But, when you go through these experiences as a man," he says, "you evolve. It's always new because we evolve everyday."

The Chi-Town native delivered his out-of-breath thoughts on evolution as he walked towards his airport terminal. Common's tour schedule is busier than ever now, with the release of his latest disc, BE. "I definitely believe that this is my best work to date," he says of the second release from Kanye West's label, G.O.O.D. Music. "I believe it's the most complete throughout. Every song's got something special to it."

With only 11 tracks on the album, listeners would have to expect only the pure concentrate, with nothing watered down. Common lives up to these expectations. You might even go as far as to say that he was trying to prove himself.

While he has been making classic records for more than a dozen years, Com took a lot of flack for his 2002 release, Electric Circus. Many looked at the spacey eclectic mix of funk, rock, and hip-hop as too out-of-this-world for the hip-hop nation to grasp. But, have Com tell it, he's "back." Where did he go?

"Well, I had to go through my evolution, my journey," he says. "And when you go through that, a lot of people don't connect with you because you're not in a grounded spot."

It seems that he has landed and he knows where his foundation is. Com enlisted his hometown homey to do the bulk of production on the album, and Kanye makes sure that his presence is known even if you don't read the credits. With guest vocals on four of the nine tracks he worked on, the "Kan Man" complements Common as the only other MC on the disc.

Maybe he came back because he's grown. From his 1992 release, Can I Borrow a Dollar, until now, we have seen the otherworldly MC's music change from that of the squeaky-voiced prepubescent to the soul of a man. But Com says the feedback on his progression was always positive. Through the growth he's never shied away from expressing himself and being the person he is. He says that's part of the idea of the album's title and concept. "BE just means to be who you are and be natural," he says. "Just exist in the core of you --- be in the present moment."

The ever-evolving MC likes to make music to change your life as well. "I think I have more purpose as an MC, you know?" he says. "I talk about life issues and things that affect people's lives. I've had people say to me: I proposed to my girl because of 'The Light.' Or: I had a baby because 'Retrospect For Life' made me not have an abortion.'"

Common went through another major change a few years back with his highly publicized romance with former girlfriend, r&b soulstress Erykah Badu. When asked if Badu's influence had turned this brotha out, Common laughs. "I was already on my path of trying and wanting to do something creative and be different," he says. "Erykah is a person that encourages that. I was attracted to her because she was trying to live a different lifestyle."

Com says to expect that same creativity in his performances. With his band and DJ backing him up, he says the spontaneity of making beats live on stage makes for a combo of raw hip-hop with musical elements. "When I do shows, I want people to say, 'Man, that's one of the best shows I've ever seen,'" he says. "Not just hip-hop, but the best show, period."

With the cell phone breaking up, Common boarded the plane, heading to another city to prove again that what goes up must always come back.

Common | Sunday, July 17 | 5 p.m.

In This Guide...

    Soularized

    slowFlow’s jaythreeoh helps us sift MusicFest’s crunk, r&b, and hip-hop
    slowFlow’s jaythreeoh helps us sift MusicFest’s crunk, r&b, and hip-hop

    Line up

    The stars of MusicFest
    Nina Sky While we haven't heard much from these twins since "Move Your Body" was one of 2004's hottest summer jams, this pair knows how to keep heads bouncin' and booties shakin'.

    Light the candles

    Brian McKnight is not who you think he is.

    Young soul

    There's a soul consistency to John Legend's musical brew, but his lyrics run from family man to pimp, from doomed to saved. "I'm certain there's someone who doesn't approve of what I'm doing at my church," he says.

    Everyday people

    Just your regular superstar everyman: Lyfe Jennings is out of jail and on your radio.

    The lowdown

    Rochester MusicFest 2005 is Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, in Genesee Valley Park, 1 to 8:30 p.m. both days, rain or shine.

Speaking of Rochester MusicFest, Common

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