It’s easy for rappers to claim they’re recession-proof, but only a few MCs are telling the truth. You’d think that a person like Common’a thoughtful rap veteran who’s never gone platinum’would be suffering the most during a time when hip-hop albums are flopping faster than Kimbo Slice.
But Lonnie Rashid topsy-turvyed the game. His last two albums, Be and Finding Forever , have taken him to new commercial and critical heights, and his consistent acting roles have turned him into a seriously promising Hollywood player. So what does that all add up to in rap’s dollars and cents? A spot on the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, as well as a role in next summer’s potential blockbuster Terminator 4. But Comm still loves good music, and he’s finally made some time in his busy schedule to unveil his long overdue Invincible Summer-turnt-Universal Mind Control album, which drops December 9. We spoke with the Chicago MC weeks before the release to get his thoughts on No I.D, Kanye vs. Pharrell, dating (or not dating) Serena Williams, and our new President-elect Barack O’Bama…
Complex: So December 9th is the day for Universal Mind Control. What can we expect?
Common: You’re going to get something you’ve never heard from Common and in hip-hop as a whole. It’s a fresh new sound, and I think it’s the future of hip-hop in many ways. We did a lot of electronic stuff, and a lot of different elements and styles. It’s the future of music, but it also deals with the basics of it. We were thinking about the future the whole time, but it turned out to sound like “Planet Rock.” It goes to show you how ahead of the game Afrika Bambaataa was, and the influence they had on us.
Complex: When you renamed the album, was there any altering to the music itself?
Common: Nah. The funny part about it is a friend of mine that works with me, when I told him that I’m not going to change the title of the album from Invincible Summer; I was like I’m just going to keep it as Invincible Summer and deep down inside I wanted to change the name a little bit but I didn’t have another title that was better. And she said, “After hearing the album, it sounds like Universal Mind Control. And it was like a light bulb went off. It does sound more like Universal Mind Control. You know, focusing on the essence but creating futuristic things with it. That’s what it sounds like.
Complex: Fans are really pumped about the news that you’re working with No iD for the next album, The Believer…
Common: [Interrupting] Oh. Oh. Oh. A. We didn’t even start on that yet. You know we just…..
Complex: [Interrupting] But that’s set in stone? That he’s [No iD] going to helm most of the project?
Common: Nah, nah. Basically, Kanye had spoke about how him and No iD were going to do some production on The Believer when it’s time. I don’t even know if The Believer is going to be the album, to be honest. Basically where just saying that I’m going to work with Kanye and No iD.
Complex: How excited are you for that?
Common: Ah, man. It’s like being able to work with somebody that I grew up with that is really one of the most talented producers out there. And to be able to have him and Kanye, creates something for me that’s going to be incredible because we all just blend well. We all have chemistry. It’s real, it’s natural, it’s Chicago, it’s love for music, it’s talent. It’s like we all have this chemistry that’s there. I’m excited to work and have some beats done by No iD.
Basically what I’m saying is the process is a little longer with Kanye, as far as creating. And Kanye is definitely like, “Let’s go in this direction” or “Let’s go in that direction.” Where as Pharrell, it’s more suggestive. I’m trying to think of the biggest differences because they have more similarities than differences.
Complex: You have been working with Pharrell and Kanye a lot. Where did those two differ the most?
Common: I would say Pharrell, first of all he does have a production partner but regardless he comes up from scratch with the music so the process is different. He just might come in and create some music from scratch. Where as with Kanye, we listen to the samples and decide what we may do, and he may chop something up and flip it or we may play something that’s been inspired by samples. Basically what I’m saying is the process is a little longer with Kanye, as far as creating. And Kanye is definitely like, “Let’s go in this direction” or “Let’s go in that direction.” Where as Pharrell, it’s more suggestive. I’m trying to think of the biggest differences because they have more similarities than differences. They’re both really talented at coming up with hooks and giving you a direction for the song. Like, “Man, maybe you should rhyme like this.” Or they might reference something. I would call them geniuses.
Complex: Who would you say is the most talented producer that you have worked with?
Common: I would say J. Dilla. God bless his soul. Dilla was the most incredible. I used to think, like where is this coming from? It was a whole new sound and different. You just wouldn’t know where he was coming from with it. It was just incredible music that he made. It was soulful and timeless. I mean, you can still listen to his stuff now. It has a great sonic sound to it. I would say he’s the most talented out of all the ones that I’ve worked with.
Complex: Barack is the President Elect. Where were you when he was elected?
Common: I was in Chicago at Grant Park. When I heard the news exactly, I was en route from Grant Park to an election party I had to host. Man, it is like heaven on earth. It’s one of the greatest feelings and experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It’s like walking through a dream.
Complex: On the “Why” remix in 2005, you spit “Why don’t we impeach him [Bush] and elect Obama,” which made you the first rapper to mention his name on record. Is that one of your proudest lines?
Common: Yeah, especially now. But even at the time, I was geeked about it. At that time I was really inspired by Obama and what he was doing, and what he stood for. That was the only time I really got political. People call me political, but I’m more of a conscious artist. When people bring up me rapping his name, I feel really proud. Everybody else’s support for him is a great thing too. It’s not about me, or the artists though’ Barack Obama is encouraging people to do better in life. We’re going out and speaking on issues and using our platform to bring people to a better place in life.
As far as acting goes, I want to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world. I want to have a great career, and produce my own sales. My plan is to be at that 20 million-plus a movie.
Complex: Did you ever imagine acting, and not rapping, would land you on the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list?
Common: I never thought that back in the day, but my goal is to be a Will Smith in this. As far as acting goes, I want to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world. I want to have a great career, and produce my own sales. My plan is to be at that 20 million-plus a movie.
Complex: Did you ever feel that it’s karma, that you’re landing acting roles, given that critics always felt you should have been selling more records than you were?
Common: It’s not just money. It’s the notoriety that has come with it. You never know where God is going to take you, you just have to listen and believe. You have to be open to trying and doing different things, and when it feels right to you, you got to go with it. At one point I was scared at trying to act. But when I got up in front of an acting class, I was like, Man, I really love this, so I started to pursue it. When I got to a bigger acting level, I started to really believe it was divine. And this is one of the gifts God gave me. It’s funny how I’m reaching other audiences in a different way. My music has always been close to heart, and true to me though. Maybe because my music was different sounding it didn’t get mass appeal that it should’ve got. It helped me develop things in my character though, that allows me to handle new situations better.
Complex: You’re in the new Terminator movie, right?
Common: Yeah it’s coming in May. It’s a new movie directed by McG, and is the newest film in the Terminator franchise. Staring Christian Bale, and it’s going to be something special. Summer time release,
Complex: So now, you’re dating Serena Williams?
Common: [Laughs] Nah man, I’m dating hip-hop.
Complex: I don’t know man, I saw you on a surfboard in Hawaii with her…
Common: That was my first time surfing, and I had an incredible time. I’ve been on vacations with groups of friends, but of course they’re going to keep me in the pictures with Serena. They’re not going to film one of my boys, or one of my homies, like they would Serena and I.
Complex: So you’re saying you’re not dating?
Common: Nah, I’m dating hip-hop. My love is hip-hop.
Complex: So is Serena your best girl-friend?
Common: Ha, nah man. My best girl-friend is hip-hop. I’m a single man.
Complex: Alright. How do you feel about Kanye’s new album, with the singing and heavy auto-tune?
Common: Ah man, I love that he’s expressing himself. I think he’s talented even when he’s singing it feels like he has soul with it and it’s coming from his heart. I told him when I heard the album, that he’s innovating and doing something. What he owes as an artist is to be honest. I tell myself that too, to express what you truly feel. If you look at it, people come to me now and say they dig Electric Circus more now. At the time, people were definitely not trying to hear it. But I feel like, even if people aren’t digging it, you need to create what you feel, that’s what art is. That’s what the therapy is.
Complex: Yesterday it was reported that he felt the MTV Awards were fixed. Do you think his tantrums are ever warranted?
Common: I think he’s one of the most honest in the entertainment industry. I think a lot of times when he speaks out, it’s truthful. People don’t want to hear it sometimes, but he’s definitely speaking the truth. Even if it’s his truth. You got to honor someone that’s not scared to say what he feels. I admire that in people.
Complex: You nearly witnessed a fatal shooting at a barbershop in Brooklyn. Will you continue to get your hair cut there when you’re in town?
Common: Yeah, I was just there. Incidents happen, things happened and it’s unfortunate. I feel for the family and the people it happened to. I thank God that I’m here, because you have to live and I’ve been going there for years.
Complex: How Internet savvy are you? Do you read blogs?
Common: I’m starting to get into it more. I’m about to launch my website it’s called ThinkCommon.com. I’m going to be on it a lot more. I don’t really be on websites, or blogs. Sometimes when I release something I like to see what they’re talking about, but I’m not on them much. I definitely think Nah Right is cool. I also like Hypebeast. I like both of them.