Label: G.O.O.D. Music, Geffen

From the opening strings of the intro, which slowly but surely built into another beautiful Kanye West production, you knew this was going to be something special. "I want to be as free as the spirit of those who left," said Common, on the album's first lines. "I'm talking Malcolm, Coltrane, my man Yusef." Be wasn't just a great album, it was a return to form for both Kanye and Common.

On previous effort, 2002's Electric Circus, the artist formerly known as Common Sense went too far left and made a critically-panned, commercial flop. Meanwhile, although he was riding high off the success of Late Registration, Kayne had simply gone too right in his quest to become the biggest pop star on the planet. Both 'Ye and Com' needed to return to their roots, they both needed to find the balance, they both needed to go back to Chicago.

They did just that on the masterful Be. Kanye whipped together some of his best work while going for a more subtle approach (and not the stadium status sounds that would later define his career), while Common provided soulful barbs and thoughtful asides in spades. And you say Chi City! - IA

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