Being Common Sense
By William Ketchum III
For years, Common has been the ying to commercial hip-hop's yang—and aside from attaining gold status with his new album, Be, he still is. Rather than enlist a "who's who" pile of A-List producers, he was content with the duo Kanye West and J. Dilla. While most of today's hip-hop albums overfeed listeners with skits and filler tracks, Be is physically fit with a lean 11 songs. And while many young MCs boast possession of a plethora of women, Common would rather be "Faithful" to one. But, as he tells HipHopSite.com, Common still loves the kids.
HipHopSite: what is it like to experience widespread success this late in your career?
Common: First of all, it's a blessing. I feel grateful that I'm at this point, but I've always looked at my career as a mountain climb. There's still a long way to go. There's just one level that I'm at now, and I've got to go higher and higher. There's still a long way to go, and this is a career. I thank God that He's allowed me to make music that's relevant for this period of time, and I believe, hope and pray that I'll continue to keep progressing. I feel great about (widespread success), but I've got a long way to go. I'm hungry.
HipHopSite: You came into hip-hop during the golden era; what do you think you represent from that?
Common: I represent the spirit of what MCing is. I feel that I can bring the MC that can talk about spirituality, that can talk about love, that can talk about God, that can talk about streets, that can talk about other MCs, that uses his imagination, that's creative, that has a hunger. I feel that I'm one of those brings that to present-day hip-hop.
HipHopSite: What made you choose "Testify" for the next single?
Common: So many people respond to it at shows, and radio stations are already playing. That's the song that when we go around the country, as soon as it comes on, people start jumping up. That's the joint, and we can do an excellent video for it.
HipHopSite: You've started a hat line, and around the time Electric Circus came out, fashion was looked at as one of your weaknesses. What's it like to go from that, to getting a full-size fashion spread in KING magazine?
Common: As much as people talked, people still paid attention to what I was wearing. When you're an individual, people are going to talk, but if people are talking, you're relevant, something you're doing is important. I was still confident in myself and my style, and knowing that it evolved to something that now the masses are enjoying is a good feeling. It's like, "Yeah, they see where I'm at now. Now, they connected with me" I may go through other changes, but they'll be like, "Hey, that's what he's doing." But right now, I'm glad they can connect with it. I'm glad I can be noted as someone fashionable and stylish, because I always felt that I have good styles. Sometimes, I just go into my own thing, and my own thing isn't what everybody likes.
HipHopSite: You've had sex symbol status for a while now, but with "GO!" you came more aggressive.
Common: For me, it was just a way of showing a side of me that I think people neglected to see, or (a side) that maybe I didn't show the last couple of years. It's just a fun song. It is me, so I just wanted to express it, and be able to be creative and be sexual, and talk about things that I fantasize and like. I wanted to show the balance of who I am as a person. Every day and every hour isn't about the Bible or Koraan. Though I live that, and that's in my songs, sometimes I party. Sometimes I might drink some red wine and sit down and talk with some nice ladies. I just feel that we're humans, and we can show that everything isn't just squeaky-clean and perfect.
HipHopSite: You have a seven-year-old daughter, and you have children talking on the outro of the album. You also have a line on the intro where you say, "I look into my daughter's eyes, and realize, I'ma learn through her/the Messiah might even return through her/if I'ma do it, I've got to change the world through her." First off, what did you mean by that line?
Common: Sometimes, you can learn a lot from your own child and just children in general, and the truth they express. I started realizing that there are some things in life that she's going to teach me, the same way that my mother is learning from me. We have to be open to learn from our children too, as well as teaching them.
As far as "change the world through her," the resurrection may come through listening to children. If we give them enough knowledge, enough love, and enough wisdom, our wisdom is going to come through their spirits. They can help change the world. When you plant good energy, good thoughts and good morals, they go out into the world. They're the ones that are going to be here later, so that's how you change the world, when they go out practicing what you taught them.
HipHopSite: How big do you think is the gap is between the two generations, and what do you think is hip-hop's role in that?
Common: Hip-hop is the bridge, baby. My mother liked College Dropout, my daughter liked College Dropout, I liked College Dropout. My mother can talk to me about certain things that's going on with Nas, and my daughter might like one of his songs. It's bringing together a lot of generations. Older folks are starting to pay attention to it, because hip-hop is so popular. For other folks, it's their music, it's always the music of the youth too. The young adults, we grew up with this, this is our culture that we created, and the next generation is the son of it.
HipHopSite: Recently, Tom Cruise caught some headlines for speaking out against Ritalin and other prescription drugs. You're involved with the ONE organization. A lot of people were critizing Cruise, saying that he was talking, but that he wasn't an expert. How important do you think it is for artists to voice their opinions?
Common: If it's your opinion, you've got to at least know what you're talking about. If you're standing for something, you should know what you're standing for. Maybe Tom Cruise's heart was in the right place, or maybe he didn't know all the information. And so what—even if he didn't know every fact, if he knew the general idea of what he was speaking, and he was speaking from his heart, then let it be. I don't know exactly what happened with him, but as a public figure as a hip-hop artist, I feel like we do need to take stances on certain things that we believe in.