innerview by Meshack Blaq, pictures by Animal Chan
Hip Hop has become like WWF Wrestling. There are few artists who can hold an audience's attention for more than one hit record. There are even fewer who have the ability in this day and age to release an album that can be listened to and enjoyed in it's entirety. It's a small miracle in the year Duece triple-O that an artist has a catalogue of music that can be looked upon as a complete body of work. And out of the handful of artists or groups that meet this highest of high standard, Common has to be considered the one with yet the most promise. His 4th album, Like Water For Chocolate should be the one that takes him above-ground and beyond the tag of critically acclaimed. Somehow though, for Common it seems like no amount of Gold or even Platinum will replace his desired state of ARTISTIC EQUIPOISE
KRON: Alcoholism & Afrocentricity. Let's start with that lyric.
COMMON: Alright, in that lyric I said, "dealing with Alcoholism and Afrocentricity; a complex man showing off his simplicity. Reality is frisking me, etc." That song is called "The 6th Sense; Something You Feel' produced by Premier. I said that line because both of those are aspects in my life. I mean, I am a revolutionary and for the people's upliftment. My people first and foremost, and all mankind. But I also have certain vices and other aspects that I participate in that I don't feel is necessarily righteous, but I do it. Like drinking. I drink. When I said that line it was more about the balance. I was showin' how yea I'm a real Nigga. But I'm tryin' to uplift y'all and I'm tryin' to uplift myself.
KRON: If we could take a step by step approach to your focus, what was it on Can I Borrow A Dollar?
COMMON: It was just a young child not even focused on anything in life. Just enjoyin' Hip Hop music and enjoyin' life. I had just left college, so I was livin' the no worried life.
KRON: And then on Resurrection the Game had elevated. What would you say your focus on that second project was?
COMMON: At that point I was just tryin' to become a better artist. At the same time I started becoming a better person. Just the things I exposed myself to. Or the things I got exposed to. I started listenin' to a little more Jazz music on my own and not for any sampling purposes. I started getting' more into the Last Poets. I started getting more in tune with myself spiritually and not just following the Christian upbringing that I had. Not just sayin' Jesus is God for this reason. I'll put it this way: Resurrection was more of an understanding. I started understanding things more and actually started to apply `em more to. But it was an understanding. And the focus on that album was just to be creative and put a mark on this Hip Hop Game. And make people notice what myself and No ID was doin'.
KRON: To go even further, what would you say your focus was on One Day It'll All Make Sense? It was a very pivotal album at the time it was released.
COMMON: My focus on that was that I'm a father now and I gotta become responsible. I was real like, "Aww Man, I'm a father... I'm grown. I'm actually grown and I gotta do grown man things." And my focus was at the same time getting this message across. I was real inspired on a certain message of love and elevation. And that's what that album was based on.
KRON: I'm gonna throw out a few names of artists and I wanna get your vibes on `em in the sense of what you have in common with these artists. The Roots?
COMMON: We just got a love for creativity and a love for innovation. We love music and we got the same vision. It's like we from the same family and them my Brothas. We come from the same womb of music. We might have certain differences but we've got more similarities, which is that creative, innovative energy.
KRON: Lauryn Hill?
COMMON: Spiritual combustion. I can say that we're always striving to say something in our raps. Some people say our flows sound similar. I don't know. You think so?
KRON: Well what I'm getting at with her, The Roots, and Q-Tip, which is the last one I want to ask you; is the whole consciousness vibes.
COMMON: With Q-Tip it's inspirational to me. All those artists are an inspiration, but I grew up listening to Q-Tip. I think one similarity we have is we like trying to get fresh rhythm on the music a lot. Like using different rhythms in rhymes and doing different rhythms in my music. And we both speak up for certain things within the community. Just spiritual beings but at the same time making good music.
KRON: Who are some of the artists on this new album that you've collaborated with?
COMMON: The Roots are the only artists participating out of the artists you just named. Black Thought is on a joint with me and ?uestlove produced some tracks. Mos Def is on a track. Premier produced a track. Jay Dee from Slum Village produced like 8 or 9 joints. And James Poyser who plays keys did a track. Slum Village and a new singer named Bilal Oliver (he sang on the Single for 6th Sense) are on the album as guest artists. Jill Scott, Cee-Loo from the Goodie Mob, and Roy Hargrove (the trumpet player) appear. Then Kareem Riggins from a group called A Black Girl Named Becky produced a track that my father speaks on. D'Angelo is also on there, and Femi Kuti.
KRON: Why the title Like Water For Chocolate? Does it have anything to do with the movie?
COMMON: Of course. But in that statement the water was representing the water sign of me: the emotion within the music. And the chocolate is representing the Soul: the Blackness in this music. And in that film, this woman was a very good cook. And she was in love, but because of the tradition of her family she couldn't marry. So within the love that she had for this guy and being in love, she could only express it through meals. And each meal that she cooked; however she felt at the time is what the people who ate the meal felt. Meaning when she cried, the people who ate the meal started crying. It was symbolic in a way. I use that as a metaphor to represent what I strive for my songs to do. If I'm feeling angry, I want the people who listening to feel mad. Or if I'm feeling like, "Yo Man, this is the struggle we goin' thru. Man we gotta fight, we gotta uplift", I want them to feel that. So it was symbolic to the meals. We all cooks in this game anyway, just tryin' to put together the right thing. The face meaning is about the water sign and the chocolate to Soul. These songs are like meals for the Soul.
KRON: Everybody knows the beef between you and Cube is all squash now. So when is there gonna be a joint between you and him?
COMMON: It just has to happen naturally. Something that we both felt like we could get on it and sound good together. To me, that's what collaborations are about. It ain't about rappin' with such and such because he's large. Or that I have this person singing who already sold 5 million, so let me put them on. I feel like the collaborations need to be put together right and the songs gotta be good. First of all, Cube is somebody I grew up listening to and always respected as one of the top MC's of all time. So I'd love to do something, but it's gotta be the right joint. He's gotta be feeling it.
KRON: When you got into the Game did you ever think that Hip Hop would take it this far? And likewise but similar, did you ever think that you would be able to take it this far as an artist?
COMMON: Honestly, I wasn't thinkin' about how far Hip Hop was gonna go. I was just bein' a part of it and enjoyin' the moment, so I really didn't think like 20 or 30 years from now where is this music gonna be; where is this culture gonna be? I was just growin' with it and lettin' it naturally flow without even thinkin'. Just movin'. As far as my career goes, I feel that I'll be able to rap for as long as I want to. As long as I've got the feeling in my gut and the feelin' in my heart to try to do something new, then I feel like I could last as an MC. I feel blessed like the Supreme Being is blessing me to let me come out. I never really sold no heavy amount of records, but I still got a nice career where I could walk around and get respect, and do projects with certain people I want to work with off the love they got for me from my music. So when I look at my career I'm happy. This is the way it was supposed to be. I don't look back on none of the moves made and be like, "Damn, why did that happen?" At the end of the day I realize that it was something that needed to be done for me to grow and for whatever reason it happened; for whatever reason that God had planned. I mean, I ain't gonna want to be 45 and havin' to rap for money. But I could see myself around still writin' because creativity keeps you youthful. This is an everlasting culture because it's a revolutionary culture. When you got the youth runnin' it, it's always gonna be fresh and new things coming about. And because this culture is radical and the core of it is grassroots, it's gonna always be regeneratin' and recreatin' different things. And when you look at what it has done to unite different cultures, it's like Damn!
KRON: Even though this is your fourth album and you don't have any gold or platinum plaques from previous albums, are you Mad like the Rapper?
COMMON: Nah Man. I'm happy with where I am. I'm able to take care of myself and my family. I've got dreams still. I got vision and I still got hunger. I could've came out came out and blew up with Can I Borrow A Dollar and went straight to the top. Then there wouldn't be nowhere else to go but down. Usually that's how it goes for a young 19 year old who was wild and just comin' off the brink of drinkin' and fightin' and fuckin' and kickin' it, and all that shit. I didn't need that type of success at that time in my life. I had to come to this point for a certain reason. Now I think I built myself a base where I may be blessed enough to have longevity because I have a certain fan-base that's gonna be there. I think some of the people in the industry see the work and the effort I've put in, and I think some of the masses see it as well. People appreciate that, but that don't necessarily mean they gon' buy the record. But they still pay attention.
KRON: Over the years in your career have you ever been frustrated to the point of, or even tempted by the spirit of Pop Hits and Commercialism to go that route? You've always remained constant.
COMMON: At times I felt like I wish my shit was as large as Biggie or 2Pac or whoever it was at the time. I ain't never really been like tryin' to make one of them records in the Pop vein. But I do need to make something that people could dance to. I have been like that but I can't really do it because I don't make good records by sittin' there plannin' it as a Hit single. I really ain't been the best planner as far as singles go. But I have been driven by the spirit to make dance music: just not corny dance music. In fact the major difference with this album from any albums I've done is that I think this one has more music that you can bounce to and dance to.
KRON: You've toured extensively and are well known throughout the Underground. So tell us how an artist such as yourself deals with the "Conscious Groupie Female"? What are some of the lines you've heard on their approach to try to get at a Brotha?
COMMON: They come at me all the time with lines like, "Aww, you such a Spiritual Brotha. You changed my life." (He's laughing) Some of 'em be serious, but then some of 'em at the end of the day wanna fuck just like some of these other girls. They just wanna get out and bone, just like that. But they do everything like, "Oh, I wanna know what can I do to improve on myself?" Or, "Where do you get your hats made at?" (We all laugh) Just stuff that you know they comin' sideways with. Or they ask me all type of stuff like, "What's up with you & Lauryn? What's your religion?" Or a lot of 'em will hit me with, "Oh, I thought you were spiritual" because I'll be out drinkin' or something. And I'll tell `em, "I am spiritual but I still get drunk!" I kick it and I ain't perfect. That's what this album is about; balance. It's no person on this earth that has no flaws. We're all striving towards perfection, or should be.
KRON: What's up with the Hometown?
COMMON: It's like Chicago is the foundation. It's home regardless. It shaped me as one of those situations that helped shape my life. And Chicago is gonna always be in me no matter where I go. It's important because I get disappointed and sometimes salty at the fact that some people be like, "Man, why you move to New York?" I could sum it up in a couple of reasons why. But the business is more lucrative and the people that I'm dealing with are based out here. In Chicago, I may call and they don't even take your calls. But if I go up to they office in Manhattan, they can't run. Realistically, you wanna sit and look them executives in they eye so you know when they lyin'. Or you'll know when they're telling the truth. Plus I've done more work in the last year on collaborations and other people's projects from me bein' out here than ever before. It ain't like I'm hollerin' Brooklyn or talkin' with a New York accent or none of that shit. It was a business move and I plan to take the business back to Chicago once I come up to a level where I'm straight and my family is straight. Then I can really do something with other artists from there. It's really gonna be meaningful to give them the opportunity to really get they stuff out. But I was just ridin' on the Underground, Man. There was only but so much I could do. Until my food was cooked, I couldn't really focus on nobody else's meal. I can help out a little bit by puttin' my Man on a song here or there. But I can't really teach one the business until I know it myself.
KRON: Have you ever met the West Coast Reggae band called Common Sense?
COMMON: No, but I would love to meet 'em. Let me just leave it like that (he laughs). Nah, I talked to 'em 'cause I was tryin' to make it so we both could co-exist. Right now they're non-existent in the industry anyway. They might as well had let me have the name and just try to make money off me. Regardless of what name I go by, I'm still Common Sense. People know me as Common Sense and I'll always be Common Sense. I wasn't tryin' to step on they toes. But anyway, I've never met 'em but I feel like they was on some own-shit-vibe by not lettin' me co-exist with 'em since we not even in the same genre.