Steven Taylor/Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Common. Steven Taylor/Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The Chicago rapper Common has been in the hip-hop game for almost two decades. He released his debut, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, in 1992, and his ninth album, The Dreamer, The Believer, two weeks ago.
In his latest work, the rapper-actor has not strayed from the themes listeners have come to know him for. It is an album of lyrical prowess, lovelorn tributes and good old-fashioned name-calling. Producer No I.D. makes his mark on the entirety of the album, much like he did on the critically-acclaimed Resurrection — most notably on the hip-hop classic "I Used to Love H.E.R."
In a phone interview, Common told me he was "inspired to make music that is the essence of hip-hop and to let it be something that goes beyond that." Going beyond that included letting go of what he called "the torch of consciousness" he often felt he had to carry in his lyrics. Case in point? The fiery wordplay and hard-hitting beat behind the track "Sweet," which was the focus of our back and forth.
What is one of your favorite tracks on The Dreamer, The Believer, and what was the inspiration behind it?
The song that has been getting the most attention has been "Sweet." A lot of people are trying to figure out who I'm talking about. There was no one I particularly had in mind, but if you're offended, then there's something to be said about how you see yourself.
How would you describe the feel and production of the song?
It's rough. When No I.D. first played it for me, I just knew it was going to be a problem. We were going through some samples, and when I heard this I just knew I had to go in on it.
How does "Sweet" fit the natural progression of the album?
It represents the aggression and determination of the believer. The cat that walks into the middle of the ring and just knows he's the best. That knows he's the greatest.
How do you want people to feel after they hear it?
To feel that old school, in-your-face hip-hop. It's confrontational, sometimes telling you what you don't want to hear, but it's passionate and honest. We all could use a little more fire.
How do you feel you've changed lyrically in this track and overall on the album?
I went back to working one producer, and what better person than someone I've grown up with? I feel like this album captures that old thing and gives a look on my past, present and future frame of mind.
As an actor I'm able to be more expressive. Acting has helped me to be more open in my music. With songs like "Sweet," I'm able to be like, "You know what? I ain't holding back nothin'." Because in acting you can't hold back. As an artist, at a certain point I felt like because I established a certain consciousness in my lyrics that I wasn't letting myself express that different side. I got to explore that side more with this album, with songs like "Sweet."
I consider myself a work in progress. Any time I'm asked about my style I say I'm progressing. How I describe my music I say is progressive because I know that I'm constantly changing and growing and evolving. To the core, Common Sense is a loving, creative, Southside man who loves life, believes in God and loves love.