Of all the artists on G.O.O.D. Music, Common and Kanye West have the longest history. They've known each other since the '90s (an inebriated Common Sense even battled Kanye once on the radio in '96) and they've worked together on numerous projects. Their relationship has evolved over the years, with Kanye going from a complete unknown to a one of the biggest stars in hip-hop and Common expanding his repertoire from rapping to acting. But the highlight of their working relationship remains crafting Com's classic Be together in 2005.
Since then, they've both been busy working on other projects, but their friendship remains. And they still get together for projects like G.O.O.D. Music's upcoming album, Cruel Summer (set to be released on September 4th). Of course, Common still graced the cover of Complex alongside his G.O.O.D. Music brethen. During the cover shoot—while 2 Chainz showed off his collection of chains to the rest of the crew—we got down with Common for a one-on-one (just like we did with Big Sean, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, and 2 Chainz) to talk about his relationship with Kanye, the process behind making Cruel Summer, and why he's never been complacent.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
Complex: I see you being a politician, saying what’s up to everyone in the crew just now.
Common: I mean, that’s really respect that everyone’s around. It’s good. I don’t know everyone as well as I know Kanye and Q-Tip. 'Ye, I know the most obviously. I learned a long time ago to be honest when I’m talking to other artists. Up-and-coming artists used to come and say something, they would have a demo reel, and I would try to tell them the truth. I don’t go up and say something unless I really feel it.
It’s interesting that you bring up young artists, especially since you’re more of an older rapper than some of these guys in the beginning of their career like Big Sean and Kid Cudi. How does that relationship work?
I come in and approach it like I’m about to learn from these guys. Seriously, Sean’s doing it, Cudi’s doing it. They’re doing it in their way. They’re establishing themselves as artists, they have a presence, and they’re just beginning their careers. They have something fresh to bring to the game.
When I say learn, I get to watch and respect their process and get inspired by their process. I have started rapping and evolved into different things. I have my own process of creating. When you get around other artists that are creating different ways, you’re like, “Damn, you may not take that long to write a verse.” [Laughs.] “Why am I taking that long?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve witnessed that with 'Ye too. I’ve been around him enough to be like, “Damn, man, this dude just made a beat and did a song in 15 minutes. It shouldn’t take three weeks to do my song.”
It’s also adapting and learning and coming in and having fun. You say I’m a politician but really it’s like, I’m glad to be in this environment. I have other aspects in my life and I pursue those things heavily so it’s good to come around. When we’re talking about rap music and whether we’re talking about the newest thing to stuff that used to give us chills, it’s all relevant to hip-hop and what we love. I love being in that environment.
That reminds me of when we were doing “The Making of Resurrection” and talking to No I.D. and he was like, “We were around each other and steel sharpens steel.” That to me sounds like the same thing—you’re watching these guys and they inspire you to be great and I’m sure it’s the same for them.
One thing I have throughout my career, it felt like I did my best to align myself with quality artists, quality work, and it is a situation of steel sharpening steel. Hopefully, I’ll bring something to some of the artists that I work with and they’ve been doing the same for me.
When I heard 2 Chainz on one of the songs I was doing, I was like, “Play his verse to me again, play it again!” because he gave me inspiration. It’s like when you get around your friends, you get reminded. With No I.D., I got reminded of who and what my essence is and why I love hip-hop music. Working around him would remind me like, “You just gotta bring your shit and have fun.”
The beauty of the G.O.O.D. Music movement is that you have Q-Tip and you have 2 Chainz. You have an artist that has released music before one of the other artist’s was born. Big Sean probably wasn’t born when A Tribe Called Quest came around. That’s amazing, really.
This is Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Virginia, Cleveland. It’s a real good expression of what hip-hop and G.O.O.D. Music is. It’s real good perspective on the fact that Kid Cudi does a style of music and you can’t really label it. Me as an artist, I’ve ventured off into doing all types of music. I’ll do a jazz album, you know what I mean.
I always thought that was a hallmark with you and Q-Tip-guys who are left field artists back in the days. It’s funny how far the culture has shifted to the left. Nowadays, what you and Q-Tip have been doing for years is the cool thing to do.
Point blank, I think Kanye was the turning point. We had been doing this for a while but he was that person that came through the doors and busted it down. We had been kicking it before, opening it up a little bit, and Kanye just came and busted through that door. It was important that you are able to be an artist and be appreciated.
I’m very happy that the kids are listening to all the styles and different types of hip-hop. A$AP Rocky and them, they’re from Harlem and they’re rocking chains and they’re not limiting themselves. The fact that Big Sean is sporting his rings, his money, and he’s rapping in this way, it’s a diverse thing about him. It’s not like, “Well, just because I wear chains, I can’t do something that’s to the left and still rap over this beat." Kanye has always, to me, been the essential point to bringing that.
I remember seeing Kanye at S.O.B.’s—this was early in his career before his music ever came out. It was what people called the “Backpack Crowd.” It was the crowd of fans of Mos Def, The Roots, myself. Then it was the Roc-A-Fella crowd there too. That was when I was like, “This is incredible.” I felt good. At one point, that was what hip-hop was about.
I knew dudes in the hood that were listening to Rakim, but some of the most artsy people listen to him, too. I know dudes that sold dope and listened to A Tribe Called Quest, some of those dudes listen to Sade and Phil Collins, too. The arts are supposed to be something that can reach all types of souls, all types of people. I think G.O.O.D. Music is really expressing that in who we are and what we’re doing.