Common Shares Advice For the 2015 XXL Freshman Class
A few weeks back, XXL chopped it up with the legendary Common on the 10th anniversary of his classic album Be. During our interview with the Grammy and Oscar Award winner, we asked the Chicago MC to provide us with some advice for our 2015 XXL Freshman Class and the younger artists who are trying to break into the industry.
Given his trajectory in hip-hop, Common shared some knowledge on how to become a distinctive MC in the game and how his come up was different from today's digital era. The accomplished MC and 2015 Golden Globe winner said it was harder to break into the rap scene nowadays as opposed to the early 1990s, due in part to the internet and the overwhelming amount of music that drops on the daily.
XXL: What advice can you share for the new class of XXL Freshmen?
Common: I always say really find what your style is, who you are. Find that individuality within you. Be courageous. Try different things using your style to do different things and be unique, because it stands out. Nowadays it's hard to make an impression on people, so you want to make people know who you are when you grab that mic. It's important to do that, to find that inner voice which leads to that outer voice. And also, it's important to know a lot of the stuff that came before you. To me, part of the reason I really appreciate artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar is because you can tell they know their hip-hop history. They can probably go from Slum Village to OutKast to Nas, you know? It's important to know some of the greats from before just so you have a certain standard. It will definitely help you moving forward with your career.
Why do you think it's so hard for an artist to break into the industry nowadays?
There's so many sources of entertainment and so many people rapping . It used to be hard back in the days to get a record deal and now you don't have to have a deal to get out there. So anybody can say, "I'm going to put out a record," and drop it on the internet. So I don't think people pay much attention to it until you stand out on your own, and it's hard to stand out because there's so many people out there. And it's not like a focus, like when Biggie Smalls came out. Obviously he's one of the greatest, but when he came out there was a whole promotional marketing strategy putting him on this song and putting him on that song and people could pay attention, focus and watch the evolution.
Now it's like, if you come out with a hot song there's another artist coming out with a hot song. People don't see the journey, in a way, of the artist and I don't think it allows them to connect as much. But if you show that journey and show what you been going through and continue to put out music and let it have some type of story to it and do something social with it, I think you'll have the opportunity to stand out.
When you were coming up in the game, what were some things that you were doing to try to stand out apart from the rest of the rappers?
Man, I was going to all the mix shows. Rapping on Sway and Tech, rapping on Funk Flex's station. I was just out going on promo tours, rhyming on the radio. Letting people hear my music. Going to perform at different showcases and letting people hear me there. I was hitting the streets and letting people get to know me. I would open up for different people and continue to make my remixes and listen to Mobb Deep and get inspired by them to continue to make better songs. I was doing all that to try to get heard. I know things have changed now and you just can't walk up to a mix show and start freestyling, but I think there's other avenues where you can promote your music and let your grassroots grind flourish.
Living in a digital era, do you think it's harder for the upcoming artists?
I think it's more difficult, man, because I think the rate that the music is being put out there and how fast they can go on to the next record makes it harder. Back in the days, when you heard a song you liked you would play it over and over and you might be looking at the inside of the CD and read the linear notes and get more of an experience. And now, with the digital era, it moves faster, so the experience of a song is quicker and you're on to the next.