In this exclusive interview with host Andrew Barber, award-winning rapper Common goes into detail about about his artistry, albums, career, experiences with Kanye West and J Dilla and much more.
The music industry can be fickle. The players change, the sounds shift and time marches on. Many artists are fortunate to enjoy a five-year career; a few might stay relevant for a decade. Musicians who thrive for 30 years stand as rare exceptions to the rule.
Enter Lonnie Rashid Lynn, who burst on the scene in 1992 as a young MC from the south side of Chicago under the name of Common Sense. In the early ‘90s, Chicago wasn’t a hip-hop hotbed; house music still reigned. That Common Sense — the moniker soon changed to Common due to a copyright lawsuit — emerged from such a low-key rap market and snagged a record deal makes his story even more remarkable.
In fact, Common’s career is so special that he already wrote a book about it — and that book, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense,” came out in 2011. Today, he wears many hats: Hollywood star, activist, model, author, brand pitchman. And he’s a Tony Award short of becoming a member of the revered EGOT club, which includes just 16 people. But for Common, it always begins and ends with music. He has the critical acclaim, the hits, the plaques. He’s also the only rapper to have projects (almost) entirely produced by Kanye West, J Dilla, No I.D. and the Neptunes.
None of the accomplishments have come easy. Common spent years proving himself in the underground before breaking through in 2000 with the hit “The Light.” His Y2k album, “Like Water for Chocolate,” was his first to go gold and made him an industry commodity, not just a critical darling. After its success, Common switched gears with “Electric Circus.” Largely misunderstood, the album caused many to believe Common’s career was finished. But doubting him has never been wise.
Common’s second act ranks as one of the most impressive comebacks in history. In 2004, he appeared on Kanye West’s breakout debut, “The College Dropout,” and made a huge splash on the rapper’s “Get Em High.” A few months later, West and Common premiered “The Food,” which continued the momentum. As did his decision to join West’s GOOD Music label, which at the time only included an up-and-coming R&B singer-pianist named John Legend. Under the tutelage of West, Common brought it back to Chicago for “Be.” The LP sold nearly 200,000 copies in its first week and placed Common back on top of the rap game.
Pushing through tragedy — Common lost his longtime friend and one-time roommate, J Dilla, after the producer-rapper succumbed to lupus in 2006 — he released another West-helmed LP, “Finding Forever,” before joining forces with Pharrell Williams on “Universal Mind Control.” In 2011, everything came full circle when Common reunited with No I.D. for “The Dreamer/The Believer.”
Projects and albums continued to flow in the ensuing decade. And as the rapper makes clear in our engaging and wide-ranging conversation, his journey is far from over. To wit: Be on the lookout for new Common music, coming in 2021.
Andrew Barber is the owner/creator of Fake Shore Drive, a Chicago-based media, management and events company founded in 2007. Andrew is also a playlist curator, published music journalist, artist manager, brand and record label consultant and media personality. Andrew currently sits as Governor of The Recording Academy’s Grammy board. His radio show, The Drive on Shade 45, airs weekly on SiriusXM, and has been on air for over six years. He has also hosted programming on MTV and one of Chicago’s top radio stations, 107.5 WGCI-FM. As a journalist, Andrew has been published in publications such as VICE, Complex, Fader, XXL, Mass Appeal and more. Andrew’s company, Fake Shore Drive, has been instrumental in the rise of Chicago’s hip-hop scene, having helped cultivate the careers of Chance the Rapper, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Vic Mensa and the many other gold- and platinum-selling artists.