Common’s catalog — more than a dozen LPs, most featuring cutting-edge production — is nearly without precedent in hip-hop. Andrew Barber serves as your expert tour guide with this annotated playlist.
“Take It EZ”:
Common’s first single from his debut album, “Can I Borrow A Dollar?,” turns 30 in 2022. It was produced by Common’s original production team, 2 Pc. DRK, which consisted of fellow future Chicago legends No I.D. and the Twilite Tone.
The title track from Common’s second album set the tone for his first classic record. Everyone should also go watch the video for a glimpse into life in Chicago during the mid ‘90s.
“I Used To Love H.E.R.”:
On one of the most important and creative hip-hop songs of all time, Common uses “H.E.R.” as a metaphor for the artform he loved more than anything: hip-hop. While the song never went gold or platinum, it remains one of the most respected (and copied) in the genre’s history. It also initiated Common’s beef with West Coast rap legend Ice Cube.
Common and No I.D. are like peanut butter and jelly — they always go well together. And on “Invocation,” both bring out the best in each other. Though the content is more grown-up, the song proves Common didn’t lose steam as a vicious and dangerous emcee.
“Reminding Me (Of Sef)”:
To kick off his third album, Common hooked up with longtime collaborator the Twilite Tone a.k.a. Ynot for the uptempo “Reminding Me (Of Sef).” The feel-good single is a dedication to Common’s fallen friend, Yusef, as well as the city that shaped him as a man, Chicago. A bouncy walk down memory lane.
The song that got Common over. After years of being an underground hero, he broke through with this smooth love letter set to an unforgettable Bobby Caldwell sample, courtesy of J Dilla. This track helped Common score well-deserved mainstream acclaim and airplay, as well as his first gold plaque.
One of my favorite rap songs. Great beat, great rhymes; what more could you want? Common and J Dilla make magic together.
Hi-Tek Featuring Common and Vinia Mojica, “The Sun God”:
Another personal favorite, pulled from producer Hi-Tek’s so-dope solo album, “Hi-Teknology.” The way Hi-Tek flips the “Common” vocal sample from Phil Upchurch and Tennyson Stephens’ “In Common” still amazes me.
Common Featuring Mary J Blige, “Come Close”:
Coming off the red-hot “Like Water For Chocolate” album, Common traveled to another sonic dimension for his “Electric Circus” LP. Though panned by some critics and fans for its experimental vibe, it was simply just ahead of its time. Exhibit A: The first single, which features Mary J and production by the Neptunes.
Common and Erykah Badu, “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)”:
Common snagged his first Grammy for this collaboration with then-girlfriend Erykah Badu. Significant for many reasons, it serves as the third act of a thematic trilogy about the personification of hip-hop. See also: “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and “Act Too (The Love of My Life)” with the Roots.
Common Featuring Kanye West, “The Corner”:
After the turbulence of “Electric Circus,” Common staged one of the greatest comebacks in hip-hop history with the undisputed classic, “Be.” It found him bringing his spaceship back to Chicago and linking with longtime friend Kanye West. Featuring a back-to-basics approach, “The Corner” impacted like a bomb.
Common Featuring Kanye West, “The Food”:
In March 2004, Common and Kanye West made their union official on the second season of the then-hottest TV comedy, “Chappelle’s Show.” Dave Chappelle invited Com and Ye as musical guests, and the duo premiered “The Food.” The song and performance were so good that the track landed on Common’s “Be,” which hit more than a year after their appearance on the comedian’s show.
J Dilla Featuring Common, “E=Mc2”:
In early 2006, J Dilla passed away after a long battle with lupus. The producer’s death sent shockwaves through the music industry and devastated Common, his longtime friend, frequent collaborator and former roommate. J Dilla’s posthumous album “The Shining” includes the great “E=Mc2,” one of the duo’s final collabs.
Common Featuring Dwele, “The People”:
Common anchored his second album (“Finding Forever”) under the GOOD Music umbrella with this unforgettable Kanye West-produced single. The track finds Common repping for the common folk (no pun) over a beat that sees Ye channeling the late, great J Dilla. A subtle tribute of epic proportions.
Common Featuring Kanye West, “Southside”:
This ode to Com and Kanye’s side of town snagged Common his second Grammy Award. Fun fact: This collab premiered in promo spots for the 2007 Super Bowl that pitted the Chicago Bears against the Indianapolis Colts. Huge accolades for a song that was never released as a single.