The artist formerly known as Common Sense first appeared on the hip-hop scene in the early '90s as a Chicago B-boy peddling clever, facile, punchline-heavy rhymes packed with pop-culture references. In the eight years since his debut, however, Common has embarked on a musical, emotional, and intellectual evolution that has yielded some of the most thoughtful music in hip-hop's history. With superb appearances on two of the best songs of the late '90s—Black Star's poetic "Respiration" and The Roots' "Act Two (The Love Of My Life)," a testament to the power of hip-hop that's almost religious in its hushed intensity—Common has established himself as a lyricist with few peers. Produced largely by the Soulquarians, a remarkable collective consisting of D'Angelo, The Roots' ?uestlove, James Poyser (Lauryn Hill, The Roots), and frequent Q-Tip collaborator Jay Dee, with an assist from the always-impressive DJ Premier on the terrific single "The 6th Sense," Like Water For Chocolate more than lives up to the promise of the rapper's recent work. Floating effortlessly over a lush, warm, surprisingly dynamic musical backdrop, Common is in top form throughout, creating music that's emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Like Mos Def's Black On Both Sides, Chocolate plays like an aural autobiography, providing a vivid, well-rounded portrait of a complex man whose soul-searching and pursuit of truth never get in the way of making funky music. At times overtly political (the Black Panthers-themed "A Song For Assata"), tender (the sweet love song "The Light), and raucously funny (the MC Lyte duet "A Film Called (Pimp)," which is preceded by that rarest of animals, a funny hip-hop skit), Chocolate is eclectic, transcendent, and wonderfully cohesive, ranking alongside The Roots' Things Fall Apart and Mos Def's Black On Both Sides as one of the defining documents of today's underground hip-hop renaissance.