Whether it’s the lilting jazz of 1994’s Resurrection or the cozy neo-soul of 1997’s One Day It’ll All Make Sense, virtually every Common album has been a document of continued evolution. At his best, he is a treat to listen to, with a warm, gravelly voice, a commanding, cogent flow, and a golden ear for beats. Those buttery grooves from Like Water for Chocolate are a revelation.
But the early years of Common’s career are largely and curiously overlooked on Go! Common Classics, which focuses instead on songs recorded since 2005. That makes sense, since Be, his career-restoring collaborative effort with Kanye West, not only washed away dire memories of Electric Circus, his deeply divisive 2002 psyche-rap endeavor, but turned Common into a legitimate commercial force, someone who could jump on tracks with T.I. and Jamie Foxx and headline movies with Queen Latifah. Six years ago, he couldn’t even get BET to show him love. Now Just Wright is an Ebert-endorsed box office smash.
These days, Hollywood schmoozing sessions fill up most of Common’s calendar, and his recording output has suffered. His last album, 2008’s Universal Mind Control, reeked of blank detachment, a squalid ‘80s electro-funk throwback with none of the verve of ‘80s electro-funk. Similarly futile is Go!. In what universe are “UMC” and “I Want You” memorable enough to warrant placement on a greatest hits collection?
There are a few wonderful upsides, including “The Bitch in Yoo,” a gloriously scathing and often overlooked attack on Ice Cube. “Come Close,” featuring the ever-lovely Mary J. Blige, is a breakup lament for the ages, and “The Light” brims with an airy tastefulness that’ll remind you of just how brilliant a producer J Dilla was. “The Corner,” meanwhile, creaks with quiet tension.
Other tracks are serviceable—just not vital. The Lily Allen-aided “Drivin’ Me Wild” and aforementioned “I Want You” are pleasant but less arresting than Common’s previous odes to lust, while “The People” coasts on a whimsical flute sample. Unfortunately, the track treads the same territory as Like Water for Chocolate‘s classic “The 6th Sense.”
If you want hits, Go! packs them in great quantity: “Go” and “Testify” were MTV staples for a while. But the compilation is frustratingly unrepresentative of his best work. “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” “Retrospect for Life,” “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition),” and “A Song for Assata” are all mystifyingly excluded here. Go! is an inessential cash-in and little more.