Interview: Common

on December 20, 2011, 12:00pm

Chicago’s Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., better known to the world as Common, is a bit of a Renaissance man. Between hit records, major film roles, poetry, and a clothing line, Common has a very busy schedule. Luckily, he was able to sit down with Consequence of Sound to talk about his latest album, The Dreamer, The Believer, delivering his message to the people, and his acting career.

You said of the album’s direction, “It’s going to be positive hip-hop. Hip-hop that can really generate good spirit, the spirit of the music and just good energy.” On the opening track, you have both Maya Angelou and your father echoing that sentiment. Was this meant to be a theme for the album, or is that just how it worked out?

I asked Maya Angelou to write about dreams, what she thought she would say to the youth about dreaming. And my dad, I just told him to talk about the believer and the dreamer, just in general, like what you believe, and what dreams… I mean, those are two wise people. Obviously, Dr. Maya Angelou is like living history, like living legend, a true mark in history, living, so I knew her perspective would be powerful. And then you have my father, who has experienced his own thing, is a wise, good dude, and his words about that are powerful, too. So, it all just tied together.

Maybe that’s just… not maybe. It’s just supposed to… like that’s how it’s supposed to be like. Those parts are supposed to be together on that.

There is a difference in sound, obviously, between this album and your last one working with The Neptunes. You hadn’t worked with producer No I.D. since 1997’s One Day It’ll All Make Sense. What was it that made you want to reconnect with No I.D.?

I think he is just a very talented producer, and he really cares about the culture and the music, and he really reminded me of what my purpose is in life. [At least] what one of my purposes is, and how much I really do love the music and love hip-hop. So, he just reminded me and brought me there. He kind of brings out all the sides of me, because he knows me. I’ve known him since fourth grade, and even though we hadn’t talked to each other for a long time until we started workin’ back with ‘Ye, the person still knows the core of who you are.

Working with him is basically an opportunity to make some of the best hip-hop I can make in my life; at the same token, working with somebody who really knows you, so they bring out some of the best in you.

His production is phenomenal on this album, but when he  announced the album, he said Kanye was going to be producing with you. Did he have to drop out because of the Throne and all that? When did it become just No I.D.?

I just wasn’t able to… at some point I wasn’t able to… Kanye was working and doing his thing, and we were working on a lot of things, and it was just like No I.D. hit his stride, so it wasn’t really necessary. We wanted to create an album, a true experience or a piece of art where you’re like, “This is….” Like, somebody’s gonna pass that on, pass that album on to somebody, somebody eight years from now passes on to somebody. That’s what we wanted to try and create. So, once we were able to… me and No I.D. just kept making music, and we had the access. It wasn’t really necessary for me to work with any other producer. Of course, it’s always good to work with ‘Ye, but I figured I could always do it on the next album.

I noticed that you also kept the collaborations down to a minimum. You only have one rapper, Nas, appearing, and then Maya Angelou and John Legend. Do you feel that too many cooks spoil the broth?

I feel like… it’s about the music for me, so there’s no need for me to have a bunch of people on the album. The music is the key. I always think that sometimes an artist that has a bunch of people… you don’t really get to know who they are, what their voice is, and what they’re about at that moment in their life, so I didn’t feel it was necessary. I feel like some of the most classic albums was that artist, whether it was Illmatic [Nas, 1994], he had one guest appearance… Midnight Marauders [A Tribe Called Quest, 1993], I don’t know, they probably had one guest appearance… you wanna hear that group, you wanna hear that artist.

I’ve also noticed that you don’t tend to get into a lot of beefs, but on “Sweet” you kind of remind potentially disrespectful people to watch their place. I read that the lyrics could possibly be taken as a dis against Drake and other rapper/singer guys. Do you want to comment on that?

Yeah. You know, I definitely was speaking up about hip-hop in general. A lot of hip-hop that was out there was just sounding kind of soft to me. I’ve always looked at it like, if you fit in that category… I rapped about this… You know, there’ve been times I’ve rapped about this person talkin’ about their Benz, da da da da. And, of course, there are examples of hip-hop artists that do it. If an artist fits in that category, they’re probably gonna feel it, yeah. Then that’s who it’s about. If you don’t feel no way about it, then it ain’t about you. You know what I’m sayin’?

If I was rappin’ about people being racist and you’re not a racist, then you ain’t gonna feel no way about it. But if you are, you’re gonna be like, “I don’t like that. That ain’t cool.” Man, it’s hip-hop.

Let’s go back to “Pop’s Belief” as an expression of how dreams could lead to a belief that could lift the poor from where they are. On “Sweet”, you rap, “I rhyme for the commoners, my name is synonymous,” and on “Gold” you say, “I am the smell of the weak and underprivileged.” That’s all tied to your strong faith. I’ve always noticed you have a skill in expressing these beliefs without coming across as hypocritical or sanctimonious. How do you credit that? How do you credit being able to preach this message without sounding like you’re preaching?

I think because I just express it in a real way, in a true way. I think as human beings we have our nature. We want good for ourselves. We want good things. I think people can feel the heart and the passion in what I’m saying, and it’s done for a purpose. It’s not like, “I know this ‘cause I’m smart, and I’m doing this, and this is the political side I’m taking.” That’s not really how to make people better. I wanna make, you know, inspire people, and make people feel better.

I think people can feel that. And it’s not like I’m sitting up here, taking a big political stance. I talk about life. I talk about experiences in life, and every human being goes through certain emotions. That’s love and pain and joy and anger and jealousy. All this expresses different aspects of humanity to me, and the way I observe it, and I think people relate to it. You gotta, no matter what, make it fresh. The way you deliver it, the way you put it together. That’s part of the craft, the art of it.

commont4 Interview: Common

On “Sweet”, you open with the line “You do what you do, hip-hop is what you do.” But, in an interview with BoomBox, you said, “I’m enthused to do hip-hop, which is something that I have to do when I feel it.” With that in mind, I’ve noticed that this was the second album delayed by your acting schedule. Will we start seeing more film credits to Lonnie “Common” Lynn, with the eventual separation of Common the rapper and Lonnie Lynn the actor?

[laughs] Well, you definitely will see more film credits, and, God willing, more seasons of Hell on Wheels. Yeah, you will see more film credits. I don’t plan to halt my albums. Whenever I feel inspired to make the music, I’m gonna make it, but I’m definitely pursuing my acting career and just wanting to grow as an actor.

But do you think you’ll always be acting under the name Common as well as rapping, or will you have two separate identities?

I don’t know, man. I really feel like now I would want to keep that, because I’ve established the name Common, and some people don’t know me from acting and don’t go see the work I’ve done. They know the music. And then you got some people that may have seen me in a film or on television in Hell on Wheels, and they might come across iTunes and see Common’s record at the same time and maybe purchase the album. So, it’s about presenting my name to those different demographics. I don’t really plan to change the name, but I guess if you get as big as Will Smith, you can change anything.

Seriousness aside, who was behind the ELO and Kenny Loggins samples?

No I.D. was behind the ELO and Kenny Loggins… one of our guys named Row, who’s from Chicago, who we know, and he used to rhyme, and he’s part of the fam, and he said it was one of those joints, and he was behind it for real. And we thank him because “Celebrate” is really starting to turn some people, you know.

Common’s latest LP, The Dreamer, The Believer, is currently available in stores.

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