Common Jumps “In the Mix” [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
A Chicago veteran whose lyrical, politically-charged style helped light the way for Windy City luminaries Kanye and Lupe, Common has spent the last several years diversifying his resume--penning a memoir, starring in numerous hit films and dabbling in electronic/club music on 2008 LP Universal Mind Control. Now, rejuvenated by that that period of experimentation, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. has returned to his roots with ninth album The Dreamer / The Believer. Produced entirely by No I.D., a friend, colleague and fellow Chi-town trailblazer whose beats defined the sound of Common's classic mid-'90s output, and heralded by tremendously-acclaimed singles "Ghetto Dreams," "Blue Sky," "Sweet" and "Celebrate," the project arrives on store shelves today via Think Common Music Inc./Warner Bros.
In the exclusive interview below, Common steps into The DJBooth to discuss why he chose to limit himself to a single producer on The Dreamer/The Believer, how he thinks his latest opus stacks up against the rest of his discography, and what 2012 holds for his charitable organization, the Common Ground Foundation.
Where do you think The Dreamer, The Believer stands among the rest of your catalog?
In regards to my albums, I’d put it in my top three. I think it’s one of the greatest pieces of music that I’ve ever created. In terms of what number [in my top three], I don’t know that yet. I’ll have to make a decision though.
In today’s world, what does Common “dream” about or “believe in” for the future? It can be something small or big; just something you’d like to see change.
I dream about we as people acting more out of love in our actions. A true act of love goes a long way. I’m talking about when you meet a stranger on the streets, and the way we treat our loved ones. Let’s truly put more love into the way we carry ourselves as human beings. The way you do your job, let’s do everything with more love; that’s what I dream about.
You’ve talked about how this album reminded you of your love for hip-hop music. That was evident during the creative process, having producer No I.D. handle the entire album. Why has the one emcee one producer tandem been a lost art in today’s hip-hop culture?
I don’t know that every producer can actually give you a full album of quality beats that really stand out like No I.D. did for me on this record. I know some producers that can. But I truly don’t know if every producer has that ability to really produce an album. You do have some good beat makers out there and I’m sure you have more producers that can do that, but I don’t think the majority of them would be able to produce an entire record; especially when you’re talking about them creating a cohesive sound throughout.
Also I think that some of the best hip-hop albums were made when you had one emcee and one or two producers throughout the entire record. The best hip-hop albums have that one sound. The Wu-Tang has RZA do their albums. I think that [one producer one emcee] allows you into the artists’ world; that’s what I want, to allow you into the Common world, the world of soulful hip-hop.
“The Dreamer” with John Legend features lyrics you recited in May, while at the White House before Mr. and Mrs. Obama. What type of impact do you believe that poetry session had on President Obama and the rest in attendance?
It featured the lyrics from the music, hopefully the impact that it had was it reminded him of the struggles going on because there’s a lot going on right now. We as artists really want to be a voice for that, and we want to help society, not be a detriment to it. We just want to help bring awareness and inspiration to the people. I hope everyone in attendance was reminded of that, and I hope they were reminded that Common is dope (laughs).
One of your most interesting lines on the album comes during “Raw,” where you’re having a conversation with someone and you spit, “You Hollywood, nah I’m Chicago, so I cracked his head with a motherfucking bottle.” What message are you trying to get across here?
No matter how far I elevate and continue to grow in my career, the core of me is still Chicago, a guy from the Southside as an everyday person.
Over the last half-decade, Chicago has been unable to produce an emcee that has become a household name. Why?
I think Chicago has a lot of talent but some artists have to grow. I didn’t come out and become a household name. Actually, I think my acting career and my brand marketing helped me get my name out there as more of a household name.
Your last album, Universal Mind Control, had a distinctly different sound, one which is not present on the new album. What was more challenging for you – to create an album with a whole new sound for the first time in your career or to go back to your musical roots for your latest release?
Definitely to create a new album with a whole new sound [was more challenging]. To venture off into a whole new place was like moving to a new city; I didn’t know my way around it the whole way. You kind of have to walk with it and just go with the flow until you get to the right place. But with The Dreamer, The Believer, this is home for me. That’s home, you know? This is what hip-hop is to me.
As a fan of hip-hop, what did you think of Watch the Throne? Honest opinion...
I thought it was a good album. Those are two of the greatest dudes of all time doing what they do best. It’s a damn good album in my opinion; I enjoyed it.
Aside from music, you also remain focused on helping the community through your many philanthropic efforts. In closing, what does your Common Ground Foundation have planned for 2012 and beyond?
In 2012 for instance, I have a camp for the young people to get more involved with creative artists. We really focus on enhancing their musical skills and some of their communication skills. It’s basically an art camp and it’s gonna’ be incredible. I think you can be a better leader by giving young people the skills they need to become a great human being.
Read The DJBooth's review of Common's The Dreamer / The Believer here.