Common stands out as hip-hop royalty, plays the Showbox SoDo
Progressive rapper Common, who moonlights as a Gap model and actor (see "American Gangster"), plays at Seattle's Showbox SoDo with N.E.R.D. Thursday. The modern pacesetter for lived-in, spiritual, grown-man hip-hop, the 36-year-old Chicagoan has worked with the best of the best, including Detroit hero J. Dilla and Kanye West.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Audio | Interview with Common
On the Internet
Listen to Common: www.myspace.com/common
And other artists: www.myspace.com/kanyewest
CommonWith N.E.R.D., 8 p.m. Thursday, Showbox SoDo, 1700 First Ave. S., Seattle; $37.50 advance/$40 day of show and at the door, all ages (206-628-3151 or www.showboxonline.com).
Progressive rapper Common is hip-hop royalty, 16 years and eight albums into his career.
The moonlighting Gap model and actor (see "American Gangster") is at Showbox SoDo with N.E.R.D. Thursday at 8 p.m.
Common is the modern pacesetter for lived-in, spiritual, grown-man hip-hop. Balancing rawness and urbanity, the 36-year-old Chicagoan is a professor emeritus in three lyrical subjects: socially conscious, technical/brag and sex rap.
On the other side of the microphone, he works with the best of the best and always has. Detroit hero J. Dilla, whom many consider the best hip-hop producer who ever did it, was like Common's brother. Before he died of lupus two years ago, the two were roommates who sometimes made classics. Common also has a highly creative father/son relationship with Kanye West.
Phoning from Chi-town, he talked about Dilla and Kanye, his personal growth on the issue of mixed-race dating (he's been anti-), going to the beach, and his upcoming album "Universal Mind Control," due in November.
Q: You're known for collaborating. And not just here and there, but over long periods of time and for whole albums. Do you benefit artistically by working in a team?
A: Definitely. I was just having a talk with another musician about that, and how, you know, when you open yourself up to creating with other people, you know, you grow from that and you learn from them. ... Especially with incredible producers that have visions such as Kanye West or the Neptunes or ?uestlove or No I.D., I've been blessed to create with some of the best artists of this generation. Man, a lot of my songs wouldn't be at the level they are if I didn't have some of the collaborations I had.
Q: Do you listen to Dilla's music often these days, or is that too painful for you?
A: I listen to it sometimes. ... I'll definitely just take heed and take a positive moment. Or a reminiscing moment. Or just a moment of ... how great his music is. But it is sometimes a little sad, you know. I think over the past couple of years ... I've been going through different phases of it. Probably the first phase was not even grabbing on to it all the way. ... And then, at some point you deal with the reality of it, the missing of it, the "what ifs." But, listening to his music, more than anything, is inspiring.
Q: You used to say fag and the N-word in your songs, but now you don't do that anymore. I've personally always admired that you seem to be open to change in your music, in your fashion, in your life, it's actually really inspired me to do some personal reflection and development, so I just wanted to say thanks for that.
A: Oh, thanks, man, I appreciate it. ... Either you embrace the change, or you stay stuck in your ways. And I choose to be more open to change. Like Barack Obama. Change.
Q: I know you want people to Barack the Vote. Does that mean you changed your mind about things you said about mixed-race dating in the past? [He's criticized black men for dating white women.]
A: I definitely come from a black community in the South Side of Chicago where we dealt with the oppressions. We dealt with the oppressions of the white supremacy in certain ways in the system. So it was like, I had to unlearn that, some of the prejudices I had grown up around. And with that, I still pay homage and respect to the black woman, but I also understand that love is love.
Q: How do you feel about Chicago's rap scene right now? With Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Flosstradamus and Kidz in the Hall, there's something pretty distinct going on there, I think.
A: I'm looking at all them cats that you just named, and looking at how they all doing they own thing ... it's like, all fresh music. Fresh is fresh. It's "be yourself" music, too.
Q: Have any of them acknowledged any kind of artistic debt?
A: More Kanye, more than anything.
Q: "Universal Mind Control": Lotta Kanye beats?
A: Nah, it's all Neptunes and Mr. DJ, who produced for Outkast. He co-produced "Ms. Jackson," "Bombs Over Baghdad." The album is definitely progressive, it's fresh, it's feel-good music. A lot of music you can just enjoy. Ride to it, dance to it, go to the beach to it.
Q: So can we still expect the same amount of lyrical quality? Rewindability?
A: Yeah, there's definitely lyrical quality there. I will say this: The subject matters aren't as deep. It's more lighthearted and just feeling good. Part of being an MC is being able to get on different rhythms and songs and do different types of things with it. I explored that a lot on this album. And I used some old-school cadences and updated them. I didn't choose to talk too much about the street, or how we can move from the street to the next place. Though some of that is always in there. ... I don't want to be limited. I never want to be limited to being just an MC. I'm an actor, too. I never want to be limited to like, "Are you the conscious rapper?" Yeah, I am a conscious artist but ... just because you are an aware person and awake don't mean you don't smile and have fun or enjoy a night at a lounge trippin' out.
Andrew Matson: 206-464-2153 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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