Welcome to Rap is Outta Control, Addi “Mindbender” Stewart’s crazy little corner of City On My Back. I am a hip hop junkie that simply cannot be cured, even if I was given the last copy of Dr. Dre’s Detox album before the world ended. I love this shit forever. You will feel the love in every word, picture, song and moment I share. I’m honored to be showing y’all the Heaven that is Toronto with my City On My Back family. It’s been a long time coming, but our time is NOW.
We start the celebration of this soon to be historic day by speaking to someone who’s been down with the Screwface Capital movement since before Choclair popularized the term “T Dot O Dot”. The master of ceremony affectionately known as Common is entering his “Poetic Justice” era, (if we’re using the Tupac Shakur Greatness Measurement System, a timeless yardstick for accomplishment if hip hop ever had one), as Common has just finished helping to save future humanity in “Terminator Salvation”, and now prepares for his first lead role starring with Queen Latifah in a sport-based romantic comedy, “Just Wright”. But the MC formerly known as Common Sense has not put down the mic to pick up a script. He just flipped it like he has been since spitting innocent brilliance on his first single, “Take It EZ”. Let’s dive into the mind of 2009 Common and see what’s good with the Windy City champion.
It was a great conversation. I only regret not asking him when’s the next time he’s gonna make a song with Saukrates.
Mindbender: Peace, what up, Common?
Common: What’s going on, chief?
Mindbender: Nothing, you know. Just another beautiful day in heaven, just living hip hop. How you feeling?
Common: Good, man. Life is great.
Mindbender: Absolutely. And if it’s not, we gotta make it that way.
Common: Yeah, yeah. It’s great.
Mindbender: Word. Well, I been waiting a long time for this moment. I have ‘Can I Borrow A Dollar?’ on cassette.
Common: Yeah? Ha ha!
Mindbender: Hell yeah! What you talkin about?
Common: That’s cool, that’s tight. I appreciate that, man. I’m very grateful.
Mindbender: I’m grateful for it too. Okay, let me start off. What’s up with ‘The Standard’ album with Q-Tip? Is that coming soon, possibly?
Common: Man, we had an idea and want to do it, but we just haven’t been able to get together to make it happen. So hopefully at some point we can create that time and be able to give the energy to do it. it would be something that would be a lot of fun. And I love Q-Tip. I think he’s one of the greats.
Mindbender: One of the all-time greats, for sure. Alright, I’m patient. This is my life, I ain’t going nowhere. This is hip hop.
Mindbender: But as a fan, I gotta add a little pressure to the brothers though, like, c’mon, we need that!
Common: I know, I know. Well, we definitely gonna be cookin’ it up when the time is right.
Mindbender: So, speaking about your stuff, have you started working on ‘The Believer’ (the rumored title for his next album)?
Common: Nah, I haven’t even started working on the new album at all. I actually don’t even know what I’m going to call it. I gotta figure out the title, and the direction. I’ve been working on some films right now, you know, and I plan to work with No I.D. and Kanye West on the album, so we’ll see what’s going on.
Mindbender: Well, that sounds like a beautiful piece of work. Big up to No I.D. since forever. So hey, what have you gained in seeing Kanye over the years grow into a worldwide icon, since where he’s been? What do you take from his process?
Common: Man, I just think it’s inspiration. When you see somebody close to you become that big and be that successful, you feel like it’s definitely within your reach, whatever way you choose. And I just think that his passion for what he does and the truth that he offers in himself and his music is unprecedented. For me, it’s motivation. You get around that type of energy and success, and you’re bound to pick up on it and go out there and do some things that are positive in your lane.
Mindbender: Word. He’s hella inspiring to me too. So I gotta ask like this: what’s one dream you have that you still have to get out of your head and into the world?
Common: Um, musically or acting?
Common: To be honest, I’d say: to be one of the greatest actors ever. That’s a dream I got. To be one of the greatest actors of our time. To be one of the biggest movie stars out there.
Mindbender: Let’s go with that for a second. I loved the days when you and Canibus were rhyming on ‘One Day It Will All Make Sense’, and I don’t remember Common having movie star aspirations. Where did that come from?
Common: It came from me feeling like there’s something more out there for me than music. I felt like it was another way for me to express myself that I felt would be very beneficial to what I love to do. I found acting to be that. I was trying different things. I tried to pick up an instrument. Acting just really hit me in the gut. I really loved it. I enjoy going to classes and going through that process. Of course you feel good being in a film or getting to be in a play, I got to be in a smaller play. We did a run through for some people. It’s just fun, it’s like performing in a way. I just really developed that passion from going to class. That’s where it came.
Mindbender: Word. Well, you got it. A lotta rappers try to act, but you’re a thespian that deserves to be on screen. I have to say my favorite role I think you did was your shit in ‘Smokin Aces’. You and Alicia and all of them, it was classic. You and T.I. and RZA really raised the bar for rappers in ‘American Gangster’, too. You weren’t hip hoppers on screen, you were integral parts of the story. But what do you think was one of your favorites?
Common: ‘Smokin Aces’ is definitely one of my favorites. It’s funny, it’s my first movie, but it still was like one of my favorites. As an actor, I look at the things I get to do. That role has some depth to it, and it was written well, and it gave me more work to do. As any artist, I want to work. I want to contribute, so it’s like, I really love that, ‘Smokin Aces’.
Mindbender: So, I’ma say, I love the old Petey Wheatstraw shit, I’m one of those heads.
Common: Yeah, you in the deep hip hop, eh?
Mindbender: This is the culture I live and die through, and then get reborn with. So I gotta say, your flows on ‘Breaker 1/9’ are different than your style during the ‘Electric Circus’ days, which I think was very ahead of its time, by the way. I loved ‘I Am Music’, that shit was amazing…
Common: …thanks man. Well, let me say this. If you look at the time period of ‘Breaker 1/9’, look at what was going on in hip hop, look at how old I was, you think about a human being, you say ‘this person has grown’. ‘Breaker 1/9’ was 1992, 1993. You fast forward to 2002, of course, you got a new individual. You got a person that’s been through different experiences, been through the world, learned more about music, so yeah. You get the growth and the development from the individual. And I really want to present different flows on all the albums I do. Because for me, you want to keep people energized, and mouth watering, you know?
Mindbender: Yeah. I love to see the evolution. I think all hip hoppers should evolve, I don’t think everybody evolves as fast or as steadily as you or some other cats have. But I was gonna ask, from ‘Breaker 1/9’ to ‘Electric Circus’ to even ‘Be’ have you seen your creative writing process grow? How has your style of actually approaching the art of rhyme changed over the years?
Common: I just learn more about music and about art. It changes cause I grow as an individual. The more I get a chance to grow like that, it definitely allows the music to grow. You get introduced to new things. I remember growing up in Chicago, listening to soul music, Earth Wind and Fire, and when I first got introduced to jazz, it blew my mind. You start implementing that. Then if I start listening to Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd, I’m kinda able to put that in. Or if I travelled to Switzerland and some artistic thing influences me, or just the environment does, all that information that you pick up can come out in your music, and that’s a good thing. So that’s how the flow has changed, and I take joy in allowing the flows to change.
Mindbender: So do I. And I gotta say again, I personally believe that if you put out ‘Electric Circus’ three years after it came out, it would have been really embraced. It was too ahead of its time. But that’s just how I feel.
Common: It’s funny, because you know… especially some of the music I heard in the past couple of years, it had those like Electric Circus sounds and ideas, but you know, everything happens when its supposed to, but I definitely consider Electric Circus to me… I still stand strong on that album, and stand behind it.
Mindbender: But hey, that’s the nature of music.
Common: Yes sir. All you can do is put out something you believe in, something that you feel is honest and creative, and you know, it’s up to the people to decide. You just gotta keep moving, you know?
Mindbender: I just gotta ask, it may not even apply, especially since after ‘Be’ came out. I been riding with you for a long time. I remember when cats got all wrapped up in ‘I Used to Love H.E.R.’ forever. Did you ever feel burdened by ‘Resurrection’ the way Nas was kinda burdened by ‘Illmatic’?
Common: Nah, you gotta keep it moving. I kept it moving, and shoot… ‘Like Water For Chocolate’, when that came out, that was my biggest album to date, so I mean, you always got new ground to gain. I can go places on earth where they don’t know Common. I want those people to know who Common is, and be in tune with the music. So there’s always new ground to gain, for those who may have appreciated your earlier stuff, some people think that ‘Finding Forever’ was my first album, or ‘Be’ was my first album.
Common: Yeah. So you always gotta be introduced to more people, so more people can become familiar with you.
Mindbender: Word. Hey, is there any unreleased stuff you got with Dilla still floating around?
Common: Naah. Uh, not that we’d be able to find, put it that way. He had some stuff in a computer that we’ll never be able to pull out.
Mindbender: And about the one major conflict in hip hop you had, which would be ‘The Bitch in Yoo’ slaughtering the king that we love, cause I love Ice Cube…
Common: Definitely. I love Ice Cube.
Mindbender: For real. I seen you freestyle and big him up in the verse. But that’s one of the best dis songs of all time. But I gotta ask: what is one of the biggest lasting lessons hip hop culture has given you over the years, through all the ups and downs and successes and failures you have experienced?
Common: Just to know who you are. If you know who you are walking through life, you good. Hip hop taught me that there is going to be ups and downs, but you gotta believe in what you’re doing and believe in yourself. And that ties back to something you said about ‘what about Kanye and how has he inspired you’. Yo, he always inspires me to believe in myself, you know what I mean? So, that’s something I learned through hip hop and I think that’s something that we can apply to our lives in anything we do. Just to believe in yourself, and believe in the Most High Gods.
Mindbender: Amen ra. Hey, my hip hop heroes are my gods, music is my god and loving everyone is the way that I live. Thanks for giving me that lesson through your music.
Common: Yes sir, man. I appreciate that man. I’ma keep striving to keep putting out music that is enlightening and enjoyable.
Mindbender: I’ll be listening every time. It’s been an honor and a pleasure, Common. See you when you get to Toronto.
Common: Fa sho’, brother. You stay up.
(Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Mighty Mos Def will be replacing Common on the Rock the Bells Toronto date. Thank you to Common and Katie for the interview. I’m sure Sir Ivy from Smokin’ Aces had a Buddy Israel to murk, or something. We’ll see Common next time. And we’ll see YOU at Rock the Bells tomorrow!)
This is love,