FEATURE: Common:The Message
Lonnie Rashid Lynn's been here before. Confined to Legacy Studios in New York City on a rainy October afternoon, Lynn, better known as Common, is playing his eight disc, Universal Mind Control, for a small group of writers. The LP's short as usual- spanning only 12 songs. In true Common tradition, the lyricist presents every song, clarifying concepts, sharing studio session anecdotes and revealing his inspiration for each piece. But there’s something different.
The conscious rapper's poster boy for well over a decade now, Com typically introduced social commentary (“It’s Your World,” “Black Maybe”), battle-ready verses (“Chi City,” “The Game”) and requisite girl joints (“Go,” “I Want You”) at previous listening sessions. Only, for UMC, free-flowing, fun, carefree songs seem closer together, while the progressive, uplifting, introspective cuts, Com followers have become accustomed to over the years, are few and far between. Even his speech, which is interestingly more explicit than usual, comes off quite pedestrian as evidenced in his abbreviated song introductions. "This song is like me talking to a girl," he reveals before previewing UMC's "Sex 4 Suga. "It's like me talking to a stripper." Yes! There's something different about Common. Then again, he's always flowed cross current. Substance over flash, his content proved to be a refreshing alternative to a climate saturated with money, cash, hoes these past few calendars -a much needed reminder that life is more than just fun and games. Interestingly, in a time where the emptiest of MCs are singing a more political tune in the face of a crippling economy, Com just wants to have fun. "I don’t always wanna have to think about not having money, or getting money," Com told XXLMag.com minutes after concluding his listening session. "Sometimes, I just wanna say, 'Man, let’s have fun.' I do wanna have fun in this world. I think it’s just as necessary to have fun then to get the message and to learn."
Fear not, the MC hasn't completely abandoned his conscious tag. Loyalists will surely be thankful for "Make My Day," a feel good song reminiscent of summertime cookouts featuring Cee-Lo Green; and "Changes," a Mr. DJ-produced cut the Chi-Town MC hopes will become president-elect Barack Obama's inauguration song come January 20th. Still, Com's threading water he could easily drown in. And he almost did. Electric Circus, his most daring record to date, was widely panned by critics upon its release back in 2002. Com had always been a risk taker, only this time, the music was a bit too left for even some of his most die-hard supporters to bear. Like Circus, UMC's a glaring departure from its predecessors. And considering how fickle hip-hop fans can be, they could quite easily turn on him again. But it doesn't seem to phase him the least bit. "I feel like the fans know that they get messages from me and the message has been in the music that I’ve created before," Common explained. "Some of the things I even did for the last album, it still resonates. The message gon change sometimes, it’s like relevant. Like, you can listen to certain things Bob Marley said, or KRS-One, or Stevie Wonder and it’s still relevant to things that’s going on now."
Surely Com's newfound lifestyle is being reflected in his music. This past August, Forbes Magazine published its second annual "Hip-Hop Cash Kings" list. Factoring in endorsements and an impressive movie resume, the rapper-turned-actor ranked above household names like The Game, Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon and Outkast -reportedly raking in $12 million for the year. Only two years since making his big screen debut in Smoking Aces, he's already starred alongside five Academy Award winning actors: Russell Crow and Denzel Washington in American Gangster, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman in Wanted and Forest Withaker in Street Kings. Needless to say the Chicagoan now frequently gets to rub elbows in Hollywood circles. Previously afforded privacy in his more subterranean days, he now has to deal with being a more public figure, routinely dodging prying paparazzi and appearing on gossip blogs. In the past year alone, photos of Com getting cozy with tennis superstar Serena Williams have consistently been making rounds in the bloggersphere. Borrowing the Jayonce approach, both have kept mum on the rumored relationship. "It’s funny to me cause some things you see out there, you know it ain’t true and then it’s like, 'man I’m just really trying to kick it, they paying attention to that?'" Com explained. "In certain ways, I appreciate it for the fact that it shows that I’m getting more and more out there, my music is getting out and the things that I’m doing. I’m out there even more. But, overall, I would say I’m just grateful to be creating music and making my movement go forward." "I laugh sometimes like, I can't believe they would film me going to a restaurant," he continued. "That’s crazy, but in many ways, me being underground has prepared me to be able to take this in stride and be like, 'man, this is a blessing and this is part of what comes with being an artist.'”
So, 16 years into the game, Lonnie Rashid Lynn appears to have come full circle. If anything, UMC should remind fans of the barely legal MC who urged fans to "Take It EZ" on Can I Borrow A Dollar? rather than fear another Electric Circus. And as far as the message, to let Com tell it, it's still there. "If they’re looking for a new message right now, I can say that I’m giving the message like, 'enjoy yourself,'" Com offered. "I noticed that about myself. I’m working hard, I better enjoy this." -Carl Chery