Still wearing gym clothes, Common slouches in a chair in a 16th-floor suite at Public, a posh Ian Schrager hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. His quarters are pristine, blinding white: white curtains, white furniture, white candles, white orchids, white walls. It feels like heaven’s waiting room, with three green apples on the coffee table serving as a final test of temptation. “Ask me anything,” he says. “I want the article to be interesting.”
In a genre where youthful rebelliousness trumps just about every other suit, Common knows that he doesn’t have the edgiest reputation. Too many kufis, romantic records and Nag Champa sticks for that. He wants people to know that he drinks, parties and even, on occasion, might wind up watching quivering female flesh at a gentleman’s club. “I think some of the stigma of me being a conscious guy and not enjoying myself has fallen off a little bit,” he says. “I ain’t out all the time, but I have a little fun, and I talk shit a little bit. It ain’t in there like I’m reading a book and trying to philosophize.”
As an example, he describes a boozy birthday dinner for Nas held in September at Catch, a new restaurant in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. He, Nas, Jay-Z and Steve Stoute sat together at a table, drinking too much wine and swapping industry war stories. “It felt like we had the godfathers,” Common says. His seat at this Apalachin meeting may seem unlikely, but he is indisputably a made man. Once a nasally Midwestern kid, he segued from underground battle rapper to neo-soul moralizer to his current role of dignified adult-contemporary musician. He’s proud of this legacy. “No matter what, me wearing crocheted pants or doing love songs, nobody could ever come to me and say I ain’t a MC. At this point, I feel like I’m one of the greatest to ever do it. I’ll go against anybody when it come to MCing… I grew up watching Muhammad Ali. When I get on the mic, I’m the greatest.”
Still, Common is a refugee from a more tangible, predigital era. He’s never owned a computer, and he paws helplessly at the surface of his new iPad like a kitten at a mirror. When asked
what contemporary rap he listens to, he doesn’t have a long list. “Kanye.” There’s a pause, then he adds Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. In 2012, the man adored among purists for 1994’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” mostly listens to rappers your mother has heard of. When members of Harlem’s new ASAP collective recently approached Common in Barneys department store in New York, he had no clue who they were. “I definitely will acknowledge I’m not staying up on everything that’s going on,” he says, citing jazz and rock as genres of music he also enjoys. “We need artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, who really appreciate hip-hop.
I actually like some of Rick Ross’s stuff, as well. His music is fun to me. I could hear a Waka Flocka song in the club and appreciate that it’s got everybody on 30,000 charged up. But usually I breeze through. I’m not seeking it out.”—Ben Detrick
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