Born Lonnie Rashid Lynn in 1973, in Chicago, IL. Addresses: Record company--Geffen Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website--Common Official Website: http://www.common-music.com.
Hip-hop artist Common, formerly known as Common Sense, is known for his innovative raps and his departure from the "gangsta rap" material and negative posturing sometimes found in popular hip-hop or rap lyrics and videos. A video of his single "Rap City " on the BET network told the story of a young black man who decided to do the right thing by his pregnant girlfriend by staying with her and supporting her. He even featured his own father, Lonnie Lynn, on his recordings; a single titled "Pop's Rap" from the album One Day It'll All Make Sense was an apology from his father for not always being there. As Rolling Stone's Kevin Powell wrote, "Common could be the most thoughtful, lyrically skilled rapper you've never heard of ... [His] incisive observations offer a contrast to the materialism drowning today's hip-hop." Ann Powers of the New York Times described him as "a gifted wordsmith ... Common honors a familiar hip-hop essential: storytelling. Like most rappers, he effortlessly discharges witty phrases; but he also weaves complicated, rich narratives."
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn in 1973, was raised in Chicago. An NBA hopeful, he was a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls. The first widely hailed MC to emerge from Chicago, Common aspired to be as lauded as KRS-1 or Rakim, and wanted to have something substantive to say through his music. He signed with Relativity Records in 1991 when the rock-oriented label first embraced rap and hip-hop music. The label's executive vice president of marketing and promotion, Alan Grunblatt, told Billboard's Havelock Nelson, "We always wanted to be involved in cool, hip, alternative music. We feel that rap is part of that."
Common released Can I Borrow A Dollar in 1992, and Resurrection in 1994. In 1994 he was forced to abbreviate his name from Common Sense to Common, due to a lawsuit by an Orange County-based reggae group called Common Sense. It him took three years to release One Day It'll All Make Sense, which included a roster of rap and hip-hop's most talented artists. Erykah Badu contributed to the song "All Night Long," and Cee-Lo Green of the Goodie Mob contributed to "G.O.D." (Gaining One's Definition). Lauryn Hill of the Fugees recorded with Common while both were expecting the birth of their first child in August of 1997. The single they worked on, "Retrospect For Life," dealt with the fragile topic of abortion, and concluded, "315 dollars ain't worth your soul." Q-Tip joined Common on his third release as well in the single "Stolen Moments, Part 3," and De La Soul joined him for "Gettin" Down at the Ampitheatre." Black Thought of the Roots contributed to "Stolen Moments, Part 2." Chantay Savage contributed to "Reminding Me (of Sef)," an upbeat remembrance of his youth, dedicated to his deceased best friend. Forrest Green wrote in an article for the Detroit-based Metro Times, "Common's newest release, One Day It'll All Make Sense, was easily one of the most inventive rap albums of 1997. Its loose, band-driven fusillade of rapping, poetry and musicianship revives the rap album format for real, but the piece de resistance, 'Retrospect For Life,' stuffs hip-hop's muses to the gill."
When Common released Resurrection in 1994, he commented on the stagnant state of hip-hop and rap using the single "i used to love h.e.r.," an allegory of hip-hop as an attractive but fickle woman, which created discussion within the hip-hop/rap realm and drew attention to Common's talent. The single also prompted a lawsuit against Common by rapper Ice Cube, who felt he was maligned in the song. The lawsuit did not end favorably for Common, and litigation slowed the production of Resurrection. Common explained to the Orange County Register's Ben Wener why he was so disillusioned by rap: "Everything became so old. The repetition of not just one sound but every sound, and all the samples that came out were so tired. ... In '88, '89, you had groups coming out in all different directions."
Common told Wener he knew he had to have a distinctive style to separate himself from other rap artists, and the impending birth of his daughter provided fuel for his imagination and creativity for his third release. Other noted rappers such as Snoop Doggy Dogg, LL Cool J, and Coolio also turned to the joys of fatherhood and marriage in their material, and Common was among those ushering in a new lyrical and spiritual trend toward family values and adulthood. In a Newsweek interview with Veronica Chambers, he said, "A lot of my friends were getting turned off to hip-hop music because we were growing up."
Common was the headline act for the Elements of Hip-Hop tour in 1998, which included Rahzel the Godfather of Noyze (of the Roots), four DJs from San Francisco known as the X-Ecutioners (Mista Sinista, Roc Raida, Total Eclipse, and Rob Swift), and Common's four-piece band called A Black Girl Named Becky. After the release of One Day It'll All Make Sense, Common decided to learn to play the piano and drums, and he also took a music theory class and a course in the business of music. In spite of his positive message and status as a "rapper's rapper," Common hadn't yet enjoyed the mainstream success of commercial rappers such as Busta Rhymes or hardcore rapper Ice Cube, but he told Wener, "Sooner or later I'll catch the new people, even if I have to keep reinventing myself. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully people will react."
Common moved to Brooklyn in 1998, but kept close ties with the Chicago scene. Signed to MCA, he released Like Water for Chocolate in 2000, an album that borrowed its title from a Mexican novel and film. Featuring guest appearances from rapper Mos Def, modern jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and Nigerian juju sensation Femi Kuti, among others, Like Water for Chocolate brought Common his first taste of wide commercial success. "The Light," which the Los Angeles Times called a "reverent, new-age love song"---three terms rarely associated with hip-hop---won Common a Grammy award nomination in 2001.
Electric Circus (2002) was recorded under the influence of the neo-soul movement, specifically the music of Erykah Badu, whom Common dated for two years. An odd mix of hip-hop, soul, and psychedelia, the music impressed many critics but sold only 65,000 copies. Common looked at the album as a learning experience. "I don't apologize for the record," he said in a Billboard article quoted on the MSN Music website. "It was me being true to what I feel as an artist. Like Miles Davis, it's my Bitches Brew."
Nearly 15 years after first entering the music business, Common released a breakthrough album in 2005. Be made a promising debut at number one on Billboard's Hip-Hop and R&B album charts. The single "Go" received heavy radio airplay in the summer of 2005. The album again featured a phalanx of guest stars, but none was more important than Chicago rapper and producer Kanye West, who helmed nine of the album's eleven tracks. As Common hit the road with neo-soul vocalist John Legend in support of Be, he had become a key contributor to a broadening of hip-hop's musical vision.
by B. Kimberly Taylor and James M. Manheim
Signed with Relativity Records under name Common Sense in 1991; lost a lawsuit to reggae band named Common Sense and shortened his name in 1994; released Can I Borrow A Dollar, 1992; released Resurrection, 1994; released One Day It'll All Make Sense, 1997; headline act for the Elements of Hip-Hop tour in 1998; moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, NY; released Like Water for Chocolate, 2000; released Electric Circus, 2002; signed to Geffen label; released Be, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Can I Borrow A Dollar? Relativity Records, 1992.
- Resurrection Relativity Records, 1994.
- One Day It'll All Make Sense Relativity Records, 1997.
- Like Water for Chocolate MCA, 2000.
- Electric Circus MCA, 2002.
- Be Geffen, 2005.
- Billboard, February 26, 1994.
- Chicago Sun-Times, May 22, 2005, Sunday Showcase section, p. 6.
- Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1998.
- Florida Times Union, May 25, 2005, p. C6.
- Los Angeles Times, February 4, 1998; May 24, 2005, p. E1.
- Metro Times (Detroit), January 21-27, 1998.
- New York Times, January 23, 1998.
- Newsweek, January 19, 1998.
- Orange County Register, January 29, 1998.
- Rolling Stone, January 22, 1998.
- USA Today, July 20, 2003.
- "Common," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 8, 2005).
- "Common an Uncommon Rapper," MSN Music, http://www.music.msn.com/music/article.aspx?news=191962 (July 8, 2005).