By Tiffany Hamilton & Poet
It was his 1994 classic Resurrection that featured his timeless ode to Hip-Hop "I Used To Love H.E.R." that established Common as one of the pioneers in conscious Hip-Hop; but unlike his predecessors, many knew that he was destined to be a long shining star. With a countless array of hit singles that not only made your head nod but your mind think, he went on to release two more albums that were embraced by Hip-Hop heads, but not completely felt by critics and the masses. But it was his 2002 release Electric Circus that had many fans and critics alike feeling that the clever MC's experimentation had gone too far to recover. Now Common's back with his sixth studio album entitled BE, to prove to critics and nay-sayers that his skills are far from common and that one day his journey will all make sense. Common Sense has never been easy to grasp, but AllHipHop.com does it with candor and color.
AllHipHop.com: Okay, let's cut straight to the chase do you take bubble baths?
Common: Nah, [laughs] Not really. I take showers. [laughs] I like this straight to the chase thing.
AllHipHop.com: Alright , you've been in the game 13 years, six albums; when you think about all you've accomplished, the highs, the lows, the Grammy nominations, What stands out the most?
Common: Ummm, probably this one time performing in Cuba. And it just was like, it was funny. I had to write down my lyrics before performing because the government wanted to see what I was gonna say before I got on stage. It was a real revolutionary setting. It was at a festival in Cuba, and it just meant a lot to me. I made sure before I took the stage, I was correct. It was a lot of political prisoners that had escaped from the United States there. It was a moment where I felt like I’m doing the right thing, and that God had sent me there to do something. I felt like I had a purpose, that was back in 1999.
AllHipHop.com: Your considered to be one of the most versatile MC’s period...
AllHipHop.com: While a lot of rappers are considered one dimensional, when you think of your versatility, what else comes to mind?
Common: When I think of versatility… man, these are the kinds of questions I like, queen. I think it just goes back to they way i was raised. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. My homies were everything from gang bangers to cats that went to Jack & Jills. I had homies from all walks of life, and it allowed me to see some of the different walks of life and relate to all those people. I saw a lot of stuff that allowed me to be more in tune with people. It made me more human.
AllHipHop.com: What is the concept behind the album and title BE, because many speculate that it stands for Before Erykah?
Common: [laughs] Naw, BE can be many acronyms, B-Boy evolution, or whatever I come up with, it really can't stand for “Before Erykah” because this album was done way after she and I were together. The album is entitled BE because the hardest thing to do is to be yourself, although many think it's the easiest it's really not. Being is just to exist, you don't have to try hard to do anything because God gave us each an individual and unique characteristic that is the core of who we are. So BE is just about that, being whoever you are, where ever you are.
AllHipHop.com: How did you incorporate that into this album, because many critics are stating that you are back to the old Common?
Common: The way it came about in the album was everything was natural and everything creative came out in a natural way. I mean I really didn't want to try to innovate or try to do what I did last album, because with every album I'm like, '”I gotta try to do something different, I gotta come better than the last album.” But with this album, I just breathed. A lot of people want me to go back to Resurrection, but I can't go back I can only go forward. What we did try to do was capture the spirit and the essence of [Ressurection ] while also showing my growth and that's what we did for [BE].
AllHipHop.com: I know a lot of critics weren't feeling Electric Circus, but I liked the fact that it was very artistic and pushed your creative ability as an MC. Overall though, what has changed between Electric Circus and BE to cause such a distinction between the two albums?
Common: Exactly. I think Electric Circus was just a part of my evolution and my experimentation as an artist and it was kind of like since this was my fifth album I was trying to continue to grow and elevate in what I was doing. To me what changed the most is that I got more in tune with myself and more grounded. Electric Circus was me and I don't apologize for it, it is was it is and it's something I created, so it's a piece of my art. With this album I did something simple and raw because it felt good to me at this time. When I did Electric Circus I wanted to go way out there because I was tired of how Hip-Hop was sounding, that's why I did it like that. But with BE, I actually like some of the Hip-Hop now, but besides that I am more hungry on the creative side.
AllHipHop.com: How do you think Electric Circus will be treated in time?
Common: It's hard for me to say how it will be looked upon, but I hope that people will look back and say, “Man, this was an innovative album.” I feel that as an artists you should be able to paint a picture, so that even if people aren't feeling it now, they can go back with a different perspective later on and feel what you were saying because they are at a different point in their life. That's my goal when I create music.
AllHipHop.com: Do sales play into your satisfaction of the albums?
Common: People always looked at me like, “Aw man, you don't care about record sales.” I do want to sell records but I won't give up what I believe in, or take away from the integrity of my music to sell. I'm worth more than that.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel about people saying that Kanye West resuscitated your career?
Common: Kanye is definitely helping to create this album which is helping my career, but it still came from me; I had to be dope or else it wouldn't work. I do feel that he has been an element as far as bringing raw Hip-Hop back in general. So he definitely is a factor in making this album incredible and bringing me to audiences who may have never heard from me before.
AllHipHop.com: As a father and an artist, how do you feel about the scrutiny that Hip-Hop has come under due to the misogynist lyrics?
Common: I think it's a situation where as a community, we do talk like that about women at times in conversation and it comes out in the music. Truthfully, I don't think that it's coming out with malice intentions, but maybe it's coming from an ignorant place and I don't think that we should judge those who do it, but really just lead by example. I feel there is a time and place for everything, when I’ma with my friends I can say things like , ”Man, there was this broad…'” but I would never say it around my daughter or other women and even if I am saying it with my homies that's just a term we use, we aren't trying to bring down our women by any means.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel that a certain responsibility lies on the parents as well?
Common: I feel that we have to look at the intent of how something is said, but also I look back to when we were kids our parents listened to Richard Pryor and we knew not to say stuff like that. So I feel that as parents we are responsible for what we allow our children to be exposed to, but also as entertainers we hold a big part of that responsibility as well because a lot of kids now who listen to our music, don't have both parents. So I feel we all have to play our part for the better of our community. I take the responsibility of showing our children a better way to communicate.
AllHipHop.com: You have been through a lot both in your career and personally, one in which dealt with alcohol, how has your life changed since your new found clarity?
Common: I was the type that would start with one beer and next thing you know I had seven down. I really was a beer drinker, but I can say that I was addicted to the feeling of [beer]. But now I feel a lot more clearer in thought, clearer in spirit, and clearer in general. I also feel more confident in myself and more in touch, because I don't have to use alcohol to give me that boost or confidence to have the "outgoing" personality. Now I really tap into who I am and what I feel.
AllHipHop.com: How would you rate your albums from least favorite to greatest?
Common: Well my favorite albums would have to be Like Water for Chocolate and BE, my second is Resurrection, and my third is One Day It Will All Make Sense and then, Can I Borrow a Dollar, and Electric Circus is my least.
AllHipHop.com: Damn, why would One Day It Will All Make Sense be your third choice?
Common: I like Resurrection better because it was more of a freedom in my expression, I can listen to my old stuff and tell when I was going through something. At the time of One Day [It Will All Make Sense] I was going through a dark time and although it was a beautiful album with beautiful songs, I wouldn't put it as one of my best.
AllHipHop.com: Being no stranger to battles and beef, having had a beef with Ice Cube, what is you opinion on all the beef in the industry?
Common: I definitely think that beef existing in Hip-Hop started from the beginning. We have to admit, KRS-One, and it might not have been his only purpose to sell records but when he was beefing with Marley Marl and them it was basically to get attention. It wasn't all for record sales, that wasn't his only mission. He was coming from his heart talking s**t about Marley Marl, Shan, and them but at the end of the day it was still like, “I want people to know that I'm dope”. At the same time, these times we're in right now, people take things so sensitively and people will really react in a way that will result in doing major damage to each other. It's just a fact that now people are taking it to the extreme. You have to be aware of what you’re doing, because people will take things and run with them. But if you keep it on wax like Jay-Z and Nas did, or like me and Cube, there is nothing wrong with that.