What is your criteria for a hip-hop legend? The longevity of their career? Sustaining a certain musical ability for a number of years? The amount of high quality projects they release? Originating a particular sound? All of the above?. There are very few Hip hop artist that live up to the title of a legend but the ones that do, tend to receive the respect they deserve i.e. Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem etc. However, one artist that always seems to find himself going under the radar or being forgotten in these conversations is one of the smoothest MCs the genre has seen. Chicago’s very own, Common.
I honestly believe whether you like Common not, he is undeniably one of the most influential and skilled rappers that the genre has produced and it is no coincidence that pretty much all of the innovators in Hip Hop have worked with the veteran MC at one point in their career.
Common has been making music for a minute now with his first project ‘Can I borrow a Dollar?’ dropping in 1992; 26 years ago. There is no doubt that he has put in his 10,000 hours. The project featured ‘Take it EZ’ and was produced by fellow legend of the genre No ID. While the project was good for the time it dropped, it does sound a bit dated nowadays, I must admit. However, his second project ‘resurrection’ featured one the greatest hip hop tracks of all time ‘I Used to love H.E.R’. This album is often considered a classic and showcased the talent Common possessed. The problem was that although the album was received well by critics, it sold poorly and this would be a recurring theme throughout the rapper’s career.
After Resurrection, Common went on to release 4 albums that are a must listen for any hip-hop fan; ‘One day It will all Make Sense’, ‘Like Chocolate for Water’, ‘Be’ and ‘Finding Forever’. Each of these albums were exceptional projects with Be and Like Chocolate for Water being arguable classics. Although none of these albums sold very well, with ‘Be’, ‘Finding Forever’ and ‘Like Chocolate for water’, the only three to reach Gold status, each of the albums have stood the test of time and there only a select few rap artists that have managed to produce such high-quality projects.
I am not going to lie to you and say every Common album is classic, as that would be a complete lie, and I’m sure the online hip hop heads will be on my case as soon as I press publish. Common has had very questionable songs which have led to mediocre projects, however his willingness to experiment is something that should be respected rather than mocked. Electric Circus and Universal Mind Control were very questionable and that is me being polite, however these both contained hidden gems, and not many artists would attempt to be ‘different’ whilst being so established in the game.
As mentioned in the introduction, Common has worked with Hip Hop royalty over the span of his illustrious career; and most notably, some of the best producers the hip-hop genre has seen. He initially came into the game with No ID who produced the majority of his first three albums. No ID is a highly respected figure in Hip Hop and is the genius behind many rappers’ albums, working with the likes of JAY Z, Big Sean, Vince Staples to name a few. He is also well known for being the mentor of Hip Hop superstar Kanye West, who also went on to work closely with Common for albums ‘Be’ and ‘Finding Forever’, before signing him to G.O.O.D. Music.
Kanye’s soul-sample heavy production was a perfect fit for common’s smooth sound. ‘Be’ received universal acclaim upon release and still remains one of my favourite albums of all time. If I was introducing any one to Common, this would be the project I’d suggest.
Common also worked with the late J Dilla, who was one of the biggest innovators in music, while working as part of the Soulqarians. Soulqarians saw Common working alongside Questlove, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Q- Tip and Talib Kweli. It was clear that working with this array of talent elevated Common’s music and led to him producing the outstanding album ‘Like Chocolate for Water’.
Common most recent project ‘Black America Again’ saw Common produce some of his best songs for a long time and shows that 25+ years down the line he is still able to produce great music. His ability to poetically share his point of view so eloquently is something that sets him apart from other rappers; making the majority of his music resonate deeply with his listeners. Regardless of having some ups and downs with his projects; he has always maintained a certain level of lyrical skill which lead to him always producing great songs at every section of his career.
This article could have literally been the length of a dissertation, as you can imagine when talking about a career that has lasted over 25 years and is still going, so I have done my best to condense these achievements into this short post. Simply put, Common should be held in the highest regard by any music fan. Classic albums. Longevity. Innovation of within the genre. The Chicago MC deserves the upmost respect.