On his third album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense (Relativity), Chicago rapper Common invited impressive pals like De La Soul, Q-Tip, Lauryn Hill, and the Roots’ Black Thought to help catapult him into the big time. But it’s his fourth, Like Water for Chocolate (MCA), that confirms his place among those innovators. Like the Roots and D’Angelo, he’s helped create a new hybrid of soul and hip-hop with a deftly executed blend of live instrumentation and spare sampling, and the new record is the closest he’s come to perfecting it. Thanks to a cast of musicians that draws from hip-hop (the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, Mista Sinista, DJ Premier, Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo, Slum Village), jazz (Antonio Hart, Stefon Harris, Roy Hargrove, Orrin Evans), and even Afrobeat (Femi Kuti), the tracks behind his raps are as kaleidoscopic as they are bumpin’. He’s also struck a good balance between the high-minded message raps of his last few recordings and the brash energy and sly humor of early hip-hop. “The Questions,” with Mos Def, echoes the freewheeling feel of A Tribe Called Quest’s “What?,” and in “A Film Called (Pimp),” Common and MC Lyte stage an entertaining dozens session between a sensitive, dashiki-wearing hustler and a hard-ass madam. On “Dooinit” he once again anoints himself the music’s conscience (“You wasn’t saying you was a thug before Pac came / Ten years ago you had a high top trying to be like Kane / Then Snoop released and it became a G thang”), and on “The Light” he bucks hip-hop misogyny, preaching, “Few understand the union of woman and man / And sex and a tingle is where they assume that it land.” And “A Song for Assata” is a soulful tribute to black activist Assata Shakur, who escaped from prison in 1979 and sought asylum in Cuba. Wednesday, 6:30 and 11 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christian Lantry.