To celebrate 'Let Love' please enjoy our brand new interview with Common. This follows up from his classic cover feature which was published around the 'Be' album release.
October 2019 - Extract from full feature, now available to BLAG subscribers
Interview by Sally A. Edwards
Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
The conversation Common and I had should really be called a public service announcement.
We’ve covered timeless and urgent situations as well as emotions that we’re all dealing with – like how to be calm in the face of negativity, how to find inner peace, being kinder to one another, listening and quite possibly the biggest of them all: how and when to say, ‘I love you.’
Before that, I want to give you a little history, first hand of how I’ve seen Common grow, expand and live out his dreams. For those who say people can’t or don’t change or that plasticity can’t change, here’s some proof and a little additional encouragement for you:
Sarah and I first met Common around the time he released, ‘One Day It’ll All Make Sense’ back in 1997. It was then he was a very different person – cautious, seemed quite angry and had just become a father. The night before we met, he’d performed in Camden and a local rapper challenged Common to a battle, then went on to humiliate and hurl a phenomenal amount of abuse at him. Common’s retaliation was met with booing - hard to believe. He said “that’s just a battle”. Now Common has a whole page online dedicated just for nominations and awards including an Oscar.
Then three years later, Common released, ‘Like Water For Chocolate’. I was freelancing and asked to interview him. I accepted unsure of how I’d be met, but knowing I had bills to pay. I was sent to a hotel in North West London to meet him. When I arrived, the publicist wasn’t there and told me by mobile to find Common, trusting I’d get the job done. In reception his entire entourage flanked him along with all their luggage. I had to get my way through climbing over suitcases to reintroduce myself. It was here I met the Common I’ve known ever since: Friendly, accommodating and extremely enthusiastic about his art.
‘Like Water For Chocolate’ was produced by the Soulquarians and featured artists BLAG consider family and have supported since the early days: Questlove, Jay Dilla and Yasiin Bey. This album featured, ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Light’ which was Grammy nominated. It was critically acclaimed and became Album of The Year for many authoritative outlets.
Two years later was the arrival of ‘Electric Circus’, which unfortunately didn’t meet the expectations of those unwilling to hear Common widen and experiment with sound. This was a tough chapter. You’ll read more about this in our conversation.
By 2005, Sarah and I were full time and knee deep in BLAG. We worked with world renowned brands to create and produce launches, original seeding campaigns and content. One client wanted us to help with the European Launch for a camera company who were releasing the first camera / music player. We were tasked with finding the venue, style and guests along with booking talent too. We chose sketch - now the most instagrammed building in London, and Common to headline. Common, his band and team flew in from all points in the States. Greeting them as they arrived into town, it was here I met another evolved Common.
He completely and utterly thrilled our guests and clients. We’re thankful the launch was a huge success and talked about for months after.
It was then I interviewed Common again for his BLAG cover and set him up with a notorious freestyle challenge. During this interview we learnt he was taking acting lessons from Greta Seacat, had stopped eating dairy and was truly taking care of number one. He was also getting ready to release ‘Be’, his sixth studio album with production credits this time including Kanye, more on this later.
Many would think of this as his tipping point. I, would personally suggest it’s ‘Electric Circus’ because this is the classic low point that fuelled ‘Be’ and everything that followed.
So then 14 years went by until we were to meet again. Well, we were supposed to see each other in LA to listen to ‘Black America Again’ but the fates and freeways thought otherwise.
Over all these years Common has released six more albums including his latest, ‘Let Love’ and appeared in over 40 films and eight television shows and in total has collected 21 awards and 54 nominations.
Oh, and he just released his second book, ‘Let Love Have The Last Word’.
So what’s his secret? Saying ‘yes’ to things for starters, though I also wanted to pose a bunch of questions inspired by Common’s love themed book and album along with how much I think he’s changed to really encourage you all that you can switch careers, re-engage in things you love, reveal your true self and be honest because then maybe you’ll see a marked change, just like I have.
Sally: Can you intuitively pick one track from ‘Let Love’?
Common: ’Good Morning Love’ is my intuitive pick because it really embodies so much of what I wanted to say on this project. It embodies where I am in life. Well, I guess a lot of the songs embody where I am in life, the whole album does actually [laughs] but it just was like, a real introduction. So that song for me… I intuitively go to that and it makes me feel good sometimes, it’s like, it makes me look at the day from a brighter place. That’s why it’s ‘Good Morning Love’, it’s supposed to feel like sunshine and meditation and you know, a cleansing… and hopeful.
Sally: Brilliant, ok you’ve answered everything I have on that one, so that’s really good.
Sally: So I wanted to speak to you about the fact it was 14 years ago we gave you a cover and that was when ‘Be’ came out…
Common: When you all said it was 14 years ago, I was calculating and I was like, ‘How did y’all miss when we released ‘Be’?’ But that was when ‘Be’ came out, so…
Sally: It was before Instagram, it was before streaming. So much stuff.
Common: Yeah, I mean that was a beautiful time and [when] I was really releasing that album, it was a momental space for me. I learned a lot, I got exposed to more people and I really presented something that I really was happy about and I could stand in and feel confident and still humble. It was a blessing to have that album and work with Ye. You know, that album was a breakthrough for me to a certain degree because you know, in the rollercoaster of career and life, I was coming from a really low point – a valley, where people didn’t respond to my music and I was going through a real tough break up and life was just like, ‘What am I going to do?’ And then yo I know I worked on ‘Be’. I did ‘Get Em High’ with Kanye on his album and we worked on ‘Be’ and that was a great space for me.
Sally: Because I remember I’d interviewed you before for different albums, ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ and ‘Electric Circus’ and that was like a real moment where you changed your diet, you changed the way you dressed and you wanted to just ‘be’. Exactly as the album was.
Sally: And everything’s really changed for you since then, hasn’t it?
Sally: Do you think it’s the mindset change there? Do you think it’s had a knock-on effect?
Common: I do. I believe when I speak sometimes at colleges – well I do speeches basically, public speaking. When I tell part of my story, I always cite, ‘Be’ as the time in my life where I started to believe in myself. You know as a rapper, you feel like you believe in yourself anyway, because you’re first coming with music and you’ve got to be confident to a certain degree, but I was talking about believing in my whole self, like outside of when I’m off-stage or when I’m in a relationship with somebody powerful, still being able to own my greatness, embrace my greatness and not dim my light. I think ‘Be’ was that moment when I was able to see the power of me believing in myself. The power of words. Like when I speak things into existence and when I truly had faith in it, I was able to just [laughs] be present and just be there. So I think that was truly a transitional period for me. In a great way.