Common Speaks On Why He’s Not A Conscious Rapper. He’s a Human MC (Video)
In the skit following “The 6th Sense,” Common made light of his public image. The Chicago, Illinois MC made a song that fought for Hip-Hop’s preservation. Moments after, he made light of the way he appeared to some—as a deeply conscious, lighthearted poet. The same artist who had been involved in serious beef with Ice Cube had a laugh at skeptics’ expense.
As the most recent guest on the Rap Radar Podcast, Comm’ was asked more than 15 years later what his thoughts are on how the public sees him. Since then, the MC has released hits like “The Light,” and appeared on Erykah Badu’s “Love Of My Life,” two love songs rooted in Hip-Hop. Last year, Common would take home an Oscar award for his John Legend collaboration “Glory” from the film of the same name. While all of these records are acclaimed and widely popular, they tell a different story than the artist’s 2010s battle with Drake, or many of his Nobody’s Smiling-era songs.
After giving his take on Rap beefs and stating that he feels it’s part of the culture, co-host Brian “B.Dot” Miller asks Common about how others see him around the 23:00 mark. “Am I like this conscious dude [who is] serious all the time?,” rhetorically asks the MC. “I feel like I have different aspects to me as a man, point blank. You know…I’m a spiritual person; I like to kick it and drink and have fun. I might be talking about James Baldwin [one moment], but I might be lookin’ at a thick girl like, ‘Yo, what’s up?’ [the next moment]. I feel like it’s just what human beings are—who we are. So that stereotype of me or whatever—perception, it doesn’t really bother me. Initially, it did, ’cause I was like, ‘Y’all keep puttin’ me in the “conscious” category—I know I got on this crochet, but damn, I still might smack this nigga if I need to.'” After asked by Elliott Wilson, Common then alludes that during his 1994 conflict with Ice Cube, he likely seemed vulnerable. Wilson compares that proving of oneself to what De La Soul did following their 3 Feet High and Rising album and corresponding image. “Some rappers, because they talk a lot of stuff on their records, they’re always getting challenged. But I didn’t. Obviously, coming up, there were times when dudes in the crowd would do something to me, and I’d go at ’em my own way. But you grow out of that. You’re just like, ‘Man, I got things to do in life.'”
Common says he channels his aggressive side into writing. Asked which songs, the MC points to “Hungry” from One Day It’ll All Make Sense, the aforementioned “6th Sense,” and “Pyramids” from his upcoming LP, Lil’ Chicago Boy.
Moments later, B.Dot asks Common why after 12 years in the game, he did not consider it a blow to his ego to sign with Kanye West’s fledgling G.O.O.D. Music in 2004. “[There is no place] for ego when you’re connecting with someone and y’all can really lift each other up. [Kanye West] was able to lift me up. As a producer, he was one of the best producers I ever worked with because he was able to not only make super dope beats, but he says, ‘Look, let’s do the hook like this,’ or ‘You could rewrite that rap.’ For me, he was bringing something special to the table, and I knew I was bringing something special to the table, so why not join forces and be able to be under his label [G.O.O.D. Music]. All it did was benefit both of us.” Common released three albums with G.O.O.D./Geffen Records. At the time, they were his highest charting works, including a #1 in 2007’s Finding Forever. “Southside” from that same album also earned Common his second Grammy Award, and the first not as a featured guest. “[Kanye West] had a Soul sound of that Soul that I really love: pianos and instruments, but he’d chop ’em up. It was Hip-Hop the way I enjoy, and love to write to—and I write my best to.” As Common tells it, the pair’s chemistry began with recording “The Food” for Be. Later in the interview, he explains why the album contains the version from Chappelle’s Show, while the original was canned.
Common expounds on the chemistry with ‘Ye during those years. “Once you play on the court with somebody enough, you know their spots; you know when to hit ’em. It was that. And we both challenged each other, because I’d also be like, ‘Nah, I don’t want that beat. That beat [is not for me]. He might make four [beats].” Elliott references Kanye’s 2007 song “Everything I Am” lyric (“Common passed on this beat, I made it to a jam“) about Common passing on that song. Common confirms, “I passed on that beat, man. [Another] one of the beats I passed on—that I regret—is the song he did called ‘Heard ‘Em Say.’” That song ended up on 2005’s Late Registration and featured Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. It would be the #1 album’s third single. “Yeah, man. That joint. He made that beat for me in the studio. He was like, ‘Rash’, you want this?’ I was like, ‘Man, it’s cool…’ He was like, ‘You sure? You want this?’ He gave me about 30 seconds to think if I wanted it; usually I can sit with ’em. I said, ‘It’s cool.’ He said, ‘Man, I’m takin’ this; I’m gonna rap on it.’ He wrote the song in about 15 minutes.” Eleven years later, Common deduces, “That song was meant for him. For me to see him create that beat [then] write the whole song in 15 minutes, it was magic. It was for him.”
Elsewhere in the one hour interview, Common discusses Karriem Riggins channeling J Dilla’s sound on Lil Chicago Boy, drinking too much when he battled a pre-fame Kanye West, and the “Pop’s Rap” series by his late father on albums.