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Common, ‘Finding Forever’ (G.O.O.D. Music/ Geffen)

Common shows his hand early into his seventh studio album. The rapper’s first words form a lighthearted old-school announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the C-O-double-M-O-N.” By contrast, he began his previous effort, 2005’s solid yet stuffy Be, with a rhyme that referenced his late friend Yusef, Malcolm X, and John Coltrane. The Chicago MC has reason to be in a more spirited mood. His fans love him again, now that the memory of 2002’s experimental mishmash, Electric Circus, has faded. His acting career is blossoming — he’ll star opposite Angelina Jolie in the action movie Wanted. And Be sold more than 800,000 copies. But Forever is livelier, grittier, and better.

Best of all are “The Game,” a stripped-down, shit-talking anthem driven by funky horn squawks and dusty drums, and “Southside,” on which Common and Kanye West trade witty verses over intense electric guitars. The potential radio singles are effortlessly engaging: “I got my SAG card / I’m an actor,” he jokes while courting a girl on “Break My Heart”; and Lily Allen adds a whimsical dimension to the chorus of “Driving Me Wild.”

It’s also comforting to know the guy still has a vicious put-down in him. On “Start the Show,” he scolds unimaginative rappers who fall back on an army of hypemen: “With 13 monkeys onstage, it’s hard to tell who’s the gorilla / You should have stayed a drug dealer.”