Issue 45 (2002)
“I met this girl when I was 10 years old and what I loved most she had so much so soul………” Out of all of the places you’d expect to hear someone finish this lyric the last is probably on the big screen. But there were Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs sitting in the park reminiscing about hiphop, rhyming the classic Common tune. Brown Sugar didn’t stop there though, aside from giving Common props by reciting a verse, director Rick Famuyiwa took the basis of “I Used to Love H.E.R” and used it as a metaphor for the relationship between the main characters and as the underlying theme throughout the movie. Regardless of when he penned the rhyme Common was blown away that he was being recognized on such a large forum. “I got chills man,” Common remembers after seeing the flick. “When they were saying my lyrics on the bench I was like I can’t believe that I wrote this a while ago. I felt honored more than anything.”
“I Used to Love H.E.R” tracked the course Common and hiphop took from their humble beginnings and ended with Common declaring his mission to put hiphop back on what he felt was the right path at the time. Now four albums deep with number five in the wings true fans have watched Common develop and try to implement that plan, grown along with him and experienced changes in their lives as he has shared his triumphs and downfalls through beats and rhymes. It’s that personal connection which makes him so accessible and appealing to both the mainstream and underground audiences alike.
“I think I bring honesty and truth and humanity to the turntables. I bring the roundness of a person. Like no matter what walk of life you’re from you’re going to feel love, no matter what walk of life you’re from you got some uncle or family member that may have experienced drug problems or may have died from AIDS. No matter what walk of life you’re from you want to have a good relationship with your father. I just think I bring the authenticness of a person that people can connect with. [And] I hope the people that listen to the music are growing too and can relate to where I am at this point in my life or are even coming to the understanding that they might not even be exactly where I am, but they can respect and honor it and enjoy it. I think that’s what music should be about, a person expressing themselves. I love the soulful songs of when people tell their experiences and you know they walked through that corridor.”
Those experiences generally spur on development that leads to a more mature sound from certain artists’ perspectives. Along with that growth comes uncertainty and skepticism from some of the hardcore listeners that may not have reached the same level or don’t understand or agree with the motives behind certain shifts of focus. While those motives may be personal, artists like Common have to know where to draw the line between how much of the work is for themselves and how much of it is for the fans because after all this is entertainment.
“Sometimes I definitely think about am I going to lose certain fans,” Common reflects. “But I always know that the key is if you are at a place you gotta show people that place and some people may not want to experience it. Everybody is not going to actually understand what you doing and enjoy the things you do, but you have to do it because that’s what you owe to yourself and to the fans. Basically I know I’m gonna win some and I’m gonna lose some. So if some are lost so be it because I would be doing myself wrong if I don’t do the music I love to do and show my openness and growth. I be having a certain confidence and a certain faith that if I do something that feels good to me its going to be a certain amount of people that’s going to dig it. Overall I just try to do what I think feels good and hope that people across the world may be at that same place or they might open up to something new and enjoy it. I used to shut off a lot of things. I never used to listen to certain types of music, but now the more music I listen to the more I enjoy new things.”
Which has changed more…?
The Rest of the World or The United States?
I think the world has. I believe that because when I go to different places I see people really kinda relating to what we doing in the United States. I think there were people before that weren’t as in tuned to our culture. But when I go around the world I see people who aren’t as prejudiced or judgmental. It’s also a certain feeling in the air that something is going on in the world not just the United States.
The United States or Hiphop?
Hiphop. The premise of the United States has always been capitalistic and taking advantage of people and war and different things like that so the premise of it is the same. Hiphop in the beginning was real pure and just about honesty and creativity and people trying to express themselves. It was the culture of the people of the streets. Now along with some of that still being there it’s more corporate oriented. The foundation and purpose of it changed.
Hiphop Or Common?
Hiphop and I changed a lot together. I was getting introduced to new things and so did hiphop. My purpose in hiphop increased and changed and became something more significant. Hiphop’s purpose changed in certain ways. It was about expressing yourself getting off the street, people doing their art, dancing, enjoying themselves and its definitely become a business and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we also have to keep the pureness in the art as much as we can. Now myself, I still think I possess a desire to be creative and fly with it. I strive to be. I don’t thing I changed the core of what I want to do, which is enlighten and be fresh trying to create some good music and express myself, so I guess hiphop has changed more than me.
Common or Chicago?
Definitely me. Chicago has its same gang banging/soul/beautiful scene. Even though it’s changing in some ways I’ve changed more. I stopped eating meat, I started listening to new music, I moved and kept moving. I think I’m more open-minded than I’ve ever been in life. I’ve definitely changed more.
The Revolution or The Revolutionaries?
I think the revolutionaries definitely are the ones that change more. The approach is a little different, sometimes it’s more subtle. We don’t see as much in our face activism as we’ve seen before, but I guess that is a result of the revolution changing. Now it ain’t just black and white, even though that’s what it began [with] and some of that is still part of it, but it ain’t just that. We see it’s other things going on too, that they will destroy white people along with black people. Understanding the revolution is change as revolutionaries we’re going to change, people are going to change and you’re going to see some new faces, but I think the mission of the revolution is still the same and that’s always to get the oppressor off the back and to free the mind.
They say you can’t go home again…
Common and Chicago are synonymous as far as the hiphop community is concerned, even though he doesn’t live there anymore and has admittedly changed much more than his hometown. While you’d assume he’d feel alienated in his own backyard these days, Common feels that he has broadened his horizons to the point where he can truly appreciate home, more so now then ever before.
“I feel like the home can embrace me,” says Common. “I feel like I can go home and be myself even more. Just traveling away from home a lil bit made me see myself in a different way. Now I can go home and be proud and be respectful to others and whether they like it or not stand on what I’m on and have a certain confidence.”
Staying true to his beliefs is what has guided Common throughout his career. Whether it’s by embracing projects like the recently released Red Hot + Riot which raises funds and HIV and AIDS awareness or running his own non profit organization he continues to do his part in the revolution. Common has taken it upon himself to be a spokesman for the cause spreading the message on wax, through individuals he meets on the street, and by reflecting his pride in his pro-blackness and revolutionary spirit in his dress and demeanor. One of his newest contributions to the movement is a book he authored in which he touches on several issues affecting our society. It’s not what you’d expect, however, as Common followed in the footsteps of Dougie Fresh and LL Cool J aiming it towards children. Due out in April, “The Mirror and Me” tells a story of a young man from Africa who comes to the U.S and ends up going to school with African-American and Latino kids. Throughout the tale he tries to change for them until he realizes he has to learn to simply be himself. It was a way for Common to send some of the same messages that he’s learned in life and put it in a kid’s form.
“I was approached with it and I thought it was a good idea,” Common recalls. “I think the children are intelligent enough, if you break it down in a language they know, to see and understand. We go through some of the same situations. When I see grown-ups do certain things, I look at myself like man we just some big ole kids. We go through insecurities and people bully us still in certain ways. We still experience some of the same things children do, but it’s in an adult way now. Me just being around children made me feel like it was definitely good [to write it]. I’ll be able to read my book to my daughter. Plus it was something good for me to try because it’s a natural course for me to say I’m about to write some films, so it was a different challenge for me.”
With the movie cameos, non profit organization, and a children’s book on deck it’s hard to imagine the next LP is ready and waiting to present a new side of the ever evolving MC. The album sets itself apart from its predecessors by showcasing an eclectic collection of songs inspired by the likes of Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, and Jimi Hendrix. There is even a track on the album that’s pays homage to Hendrix called, “Jimi Was A Rock Star,” which talks about Jimi’s importance to the people, along with his struggles and creativity. Drawing from such innovative musical influences and seeking to portray a wide variety of textures and colors through his sound it’s no wonder Common titled it the “Electric Circus.”
“Electric Circus represents to me a place of freedom,” Common explains. “Electric was definitely the energy, electricity transferred from one soul to the next. I felt that energy. It was a lot going on. It was kind of chaotic for me and the circus was my way of describing it in a way where it was still fun. I wanted the album to be fun. I think the Electric Circus was just the place that I felt was going to be the experience of high energy and fun. I think the circus says that in itself. A circus is different acts presented under one tent and I think that’s what the album consists of. The circus has a certain continuity to it and so does the album.”
Guest appearances include Omar, Stereolab, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, and the Neptunes among others and it looks to be filled with experimentation. Common purposely flips Sadat X’s style on the Neptunes produced “I Got the Right Ta,” tries to break all the rules on “Heaven Somewhere” by featuring vocals from six of today’s top soulful crooners, performs a duet with Ms. Badu and even a collab with Prince! Ladies and Gentlemen, Children Of All Ages……..