Common Not A Plain Rapper

Excerpted from the magazine for

Common is back.

That is the consensus that reverberated coast-to-coast in advance of the May 24 release of "Be." And judging by the unanimously positive buzz around the Getting Out Our Dreams/Geffen album, the Chicago rapper will find himself once again at the apex of critical acclaim and commercial appeal.

The socially conscious rapper formerly known as Common Sense has been drawing respect for his honest and colorful street poetry ever since his debut in the early 1990s.

Born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Common first tasted critical and commercial success with 2000's "Like Water for Chocolate," his fourth album, which featured the Grammy Award-nominated "The Light." The momentum shifted with the 2002 release of the experimental, eclectic "Electric Circus," which sold a disappointing 295,000 units.

"Obviously, I wanted 'Electric Circus' to receive a better response," Common says during a stop on his current cross-country promo tour. "But I don't apologize for the record. It was me being true to what I feel as an artist. Like Miles Davis, it's my 'Bitches Brew.' It's a part of my musical evolution."

As is "Be." Even while he was recording "Electric Circus," Common says he told then-girlfriend Erykah Badu that he wanted to do a raw hip-hop album.

"People might dance to it in the clubs or listen on the radio for a minute. But a lot of the hip-hop music being made doesn't stick to their souls," Common says. "I wanted to create something timeless and ageless."

Enter fellow Chicagoan Kanye West.

There is no denying that West's high-profile as a hit producer and chief of G.O.O.D. (also home to breakout artist John Legend) has heightened mainstream awareness of Common. However, the rapper declares their first-time pairing wasn't so much a calculated plan as an opportunity to create some "good, soulful hip-hop music."

Common adds, "We were like two kids in the studio saying, 'Man, this almost sounds like Pete Rock or Gang Starr.' But it was our own stuff we were coming with."

That "stuff" includes well-received first single "The Corner" and recently launched second single "Go!" These tracks, as well as noteworthy selections like the jazz-infused "Real People," artfully balance both artists' considerable talents and reflect the human experience.

In the midst of promotional stops, Common is playing club dates, including S.O.B.'s in New York (May 23-24) and House of Blues in Chicago (June 1-2) and Los Angeles (June 6). He has also made appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and BET's "106 & Park."

With a worldwide simultaneous release, Common is also fitting in an international promo tour, then it is back to the States for a monthlong tour with Legend starting July 18.

Excerpted from the May 21, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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