Twenty years ago, on October 6, 1992, Common’s debut album, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, was essential in laying the foundation for the Chicago rapper’s lengthy career. Despite limited success at the time, the No I.D.-helmed project (where, as Immenslope, he was credited with producing seven of the album’s tracks) showcased Com’s dexterous wordplay and asserted him as a notable new talent. Years later, the collection would be heralded as a classic. Here, in his own words, Common reflects on his entrance into the game.
That was just a time where I didn’t know anything about being in the music industry. I just wanted to be an artist and be a dope MC and be heard and represent Chicago, and [for] KRS-[One] and De La Soul and N.W.A and A Tribe Called Quest and all them to know who I was. I was just a young artist, just hungry.
It was a lot of songs from my demo that ended up being on Can I Borrow A Dollar?. I can just remember going to New York, taking all my homies with me, and going to record in Calliope Studios. We recorded there ’cause we saw that the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul and Tribe had did some stuff there. We went there and most of the songs was done, but we just wanted to be in that environment. I remember getting to meet the Beatnuts. They was the first dudes from New York that I even really got cool with. They was dope. I would go to Queens and hang out. They would come around and just show me what New York was about.
I would say like five of the songs [had been recorded]. One song, I could tell you, I was still at college, at Florida A&M, No I.D. called me with this beat. It was the intro to the album, it’s called “Penny For My Thoughts.” He called me with the beat, he [used] this Eddie Kendrick sample. It was like, Man, I love the beat so much. He left it on my voicemail and I would just sit and call my voicemail back over and over, and I wrote the song like that. I would just write it playing it over.
Can I Borrow A Dollar? is when I first, like, later on in the process of that album, really late in that album, that’s when I started writing songs in my head. Not writing it down, just writing in my head. I remember specifically, one time I was out, [my guy] had a little lady friend he was hanging out with upstairs, I had the beat in the car, I said hold on, I just started thinking of some thoughts and I started writing. I can’t even remember what song it was. But I remember definitely that situation, and being like, Yeah, I started that process of just being able to say the songs in my head and come together with it.
“Take It EZ” was the first single that was on the radio. I was in this hotel room at the Best Western [when I first heard it]. We was doing some promo up on the north side of Chicago, and, at that time, you go to every radio station you can, and because they was open to mix shows, you could take your record and if they like it, they could put it on the radio quick. The DJ could if it was a mixshow thing. On the promo tour, you go out there and just have to make people aware of who you are. I was at the Best Western just chilling out. Man, I just got geeked. I was like, ‘I’m gonna be a star.’ That’s what I felt. You just don’t know what it take to even get—you never know from that point what it really take to be recognized as an artist on a greater level. It ain’t just being played on the radio one time. It’s a consistent thing of being heard and getting exposure and going out there, performing, getting your video played. There was so much more to it than you know when you first come into the music industry. That’s where I was at.
That was a time that I got to hear my first song on the radio, as far as a record that I recorded. And see my album cover. It just was like a dream.
It was the first step in my dream, really. —As told to Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)