[Part 1 of 2] Love is vulnerability, a quality that veteran emcee Common has never publicly lacked. Common, the mike-rocking Florida A&M dropout, Kanye's leap-frogged prototype, has revealed on record his former partner’s abortion, his battle with alcoholism, his pimping propensity, his disdain for cup-swaying crunksters, his devotion to hip-hop, his all-consuming love for a certain green-eyed chanteuse.
Not quite the rap heartthrob, Common served a modest but respectable stream of head-nodding suitors until he threw a little too much of himself into the ring. Electric Circus (2002), the work of an earnest and ambitious artist, appealed to neither critic nor consumer. Tag on outfits by Ashaka Givens, thought to be inspired by the enamoring rumored-man-eater Erykah Badu, and love-phobic hip-hoppers damn near wrote Common off.
It's been three short but eventful years, and Common, knowing full well what love is, has endeavored to resurrect himself. With his sixth album, Be, set to drop May 24 on Kanye West's Geffen imprint, G.O.O.D. Music, he enlists his new boss for most of the soulful score and past-collaborator Jay Dee for a few choice appearances. One of the gritty Detroit musicologist's selections is "Love Is," a poignant jazz-speckled track for the stubborn Chicagoan. Common rhymes, "If love is a place, I would go again," unruffled by the Electric Circus backlash. Common holds firm to the ethos of his 1994 classic "I Used to Love Her," but this time he plainly translates it for the contemporary consumer. Prefix’s Jalylah Burrell caught up with Common at the height of Be's immense buzz to get a sketch of who he be, where he's been and where he and hip-hop are going.
[more:]Prefix Magazine: I just got back to Brooklyn from Chicago, and there is really a lot of anticipation for your album. An indie deejay was telling me he couldn’t remember the last time he so anticipated a record. Given the serious criticism of Electric Circus, how does that make you feel? Common: It’s always good to get love. I’m excited. I feel like a new artist. I feel hungry. It’s a beautiful thing to have people being, “Yo, when the album coming?” Cats on the street, just real niggas on the street, just stop me like, “Yo, when the album coming?” PM: Can you break down the meaning of the album title? Common: [It] means to do without trying hard. You don’t have to try hard to be what you are. Just be. This album was about being natural and creating music that felt natural to me … and we didn’t try hard. I didn’t try to innovate and make a whole new sound or show that I’m one of the new fresh artists and most innovative artists. We just created music that felt right to us. We just let it be.