[Part 2 of 2] Read part one of the interview
[more:]Prefix Magazine: Can you take a second to describe who some of the people you describe on Be’s “Real People” are? What do they like? What do they do?
Common: Real people is [a] young black dude, 31, got kids, married, working for the … Chicago Transit Authority, maybe have another child by somebody else, taking care of his responsibilities. Real people is the dude who grew up on the South Side or in Birmingham and his mama passed away when he was young. He grew up with his grandmother. He wasn’t really into school — was artistic — and then ended up serving a little bit, went to jail for a little bit and got out. He trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Real people is the dude that grew up with his father and went away to college. It didn’t work out. He came back home and started hustling a little bit. Real people is the cat that grew up with just his mama and went away to Howard and ended up becoming a doctor. Those are real people to me.
PM: On “Chi-City,” you say, “They ask me where hip-hop is going; it’s Chicagoan.” Hip-hop has generally been coast-centric. Can you talk a little bit about what’s unique about the Chicago landscape and atmosphere and how you and other artists are drawing on that?
Common: Chicago is a blue-collar city where you don’t have a lot of entertainment influences. It’s not Hollywood. You don’t have movie sets there, you don’t have record labels all downtown and all in your area or MTV in the city. It’s not a very entertainment-oriented town. It’s a lot of talent there — don’t get me wrong. But it’s a blue-collar city. It’s a very soulful place and very authentic, meaning we just know how to be us. And if you not being you, you get called out on it real quick.
If you look at the artists that come from Chicago, like Kanye, you could tell he just being him. He wear his collars up. He’s confident and talks in the way that people say is arrogant, but it’s confident, because that’s who he always been. I always been a cat that used to drink and still mess around with girls but still … go to church. I’ve been true to that and I think people could relate to that. Chicago has that type of spirit about it, about being authentic. I say hip-hop is Chicagoan ‘cause I was just thinking as an emcee, we gonna get ours. We gonna really take ours now and be really out there, taking hip-hop to a higher place, creating new stuff that feels good and has the spirit of hip hop that we love as Chicago artists. It’s a proud soul we got about Chicago. I think Kanye opened more doors and brought more people together, and it just feel good.
PM: I was awed and impressed by how mature and diplomatic you have been in the wake of your break-up with Erykah Badu and the talk about how she switched your style up. You think rap fans are resistant to see an artist, particularly a male emcee, express a range of emotion?
Common: I think the hip-hop community is a masculine sport. It’s a masculine art form in a way. I can remember being in high school not wanting to express myself as much about love. At that point it was just probably young love. You would be afraid to express yourself ‘cause of how other dudes would think about it. And I think in hip-hop we have that cloud over us: worrying about what other people think and trying to prove that we are the hardcore male.
I just chose to be me ’cause that’s all I knew, and I expressed love. I’m one of the them people that wear his heart on his shoulders, so if I’m going through it, I’m going to express it. I’ve been able to talk about love ‘cause I do have respect for women and do respect myself, and I know that our women are needed for our nation to rise, really. I don’t think every girl is perfect, and that don’t mean I’m perfect toward every woman, but I just see the greatness in them, so I just express it. I don’t have a problem with expressing love, and I think in hip-hop we do fall victim to trying to prove that we hard.
What’s funny — and I was telling one of my homies — I be seeing some of the gangster dudes doing more love songs than I do, but they get away with it more ‘cause within that same song it be like, “Yeah, but I had my gun on my hip and you don’t trip.” If they throw a little gangster stuff in there, cats will be with they love songs more. Whereas I might tell a song and be like, “Man, I love you. Yo, that stuff felt good. I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life,” and whatever it may be, or how I just express it from my heart and might not get into how hard I am when I’m talking to a girl.