The year 2000 saw Common leading the movement of conscious hip hop into the new millennium. His fourth album, “Like Water for Chocolate,” sold three quarters of a million copies, and the Chicago rapper was playing in front of his largest audiences. to date.
But two years later, he released “Electric Circus,” an innovative approach at bridging multiple genres that impressed critics far more than it impressed audiences. It sold fewer than 300,000 copies.
“People weren’t into such a different sound,” he tells andPOP. “The timing wasn’t right. They wanted raw hip hop and that was something they were missing.”
Fast forward another three years to the present, as Common prepares to release “Be” on May 24. People will be surprised, he says, by the rawness of the material, more reminiscent of his classic earlier material than his experimental flop.
“I said, ‘I’m just going to let it Be what it is.’ I wasn?t worried about what I did on the albums before,” he said. “I just wanted to create music to feel good.”
He sees this album as a rebirth of his career.
“I don’t feel like I had to have a comeback but I feel that I have to let people know that I am a big artist.”
Nine of the 11 tracks off “Be” are produced by Grammy-winner Kanye West, who also directed the music videos for the first two singles, “The Corner” and “Go.” “He has a beautiful vision,” Common says. “He’s just as good a director as he is a producer.”
The video for “Go” sees Common alongside some provocatively dressed women, a familiar scene in hip hop videos, but not so familiar in Common videos.
Common realizes that people will be surprised to hear him perform a “sexual” song, but he says it’s just a part of him that he hadn’t yet documented on his previous records.
“For me it’s like reintroducing people to who I am because some people never knew about my history and where I come from,” he says.
Perhaps the reason for fans being shocked at the material could be because of the stereotypes that are attached with conscious rap?the unrealistic expectations that every song must contribute to positively changing the world.
“I understand that people?however they categorize you?they expect you to be only that because they are giving you a category,” Common says. “But if you’re going to talk about gangsta life, and still talk about God, people act like you shouldn’t. But we are human beings. Just because you might have experienced the street life doesn?t mean you don’t have compassion.”
Common kept guest appearances to a minimal. West, Bilal and John Legend lend their voices to the album, and John Mayer?yes, that John Mayer?plays guitar on a track.
The Mayer appearance is not that surprising, considering the pop-rocker has been hanging out with West for months and the two are working on each other’s upcoming albums.
While working on “Be,” Common and West went to see the movie “Ray,” and West brought Mayer along. The three were so inspired by Ray Charles, that after the movie, they headed into the studio and worked on a track.
“He’s creative,” Common says of Mayer. “He’s a good dude. He was bringing a lot of great ideas to the table.”
The Kanye West influence extends one more level, as Common signed to his Getting Out Our Dreams label.
Unlike John Legend, West’s first signing who claims West had to convince him to sign a deal with GOOD, Common says that the agreement was mutual.
“This is the first time that I’ve been part of a movement where we’re doing business together and we’re making each other wealthier. I used to always create music within a movement stand, but we never had the economic structure together. This time we have the economic structure. ['Be' will] bring more money into him and for myself.”
The money will come, as long as “Be” sells more copies than “Electric Circus.” And Common has high hopes. He wants the album to sell more than “Like Water for Chocolate” and is confident that can be done.
“I have great expectations and beliefs in this album,” he says. “It’s a beautiful piece of work.”