The Making of Common's "Resurrection"
We get down with Common Sense, No I.D., Twilite Tone, and everyone else involved in making this 1994 classic.
In 1994, the artist formerly known as Common Sense was at a crossroads in his career. He was fighting for a spot in the unforgiving hip-hop industry, and it was hardly an ideal time to be a rapper from the Midwest.
Two years had passed since his overlooked debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, which largely fell on deaf ears. While the album spawned three solid singles (and garnered significant airplay on BET and MTV), it failed to catapult Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. onto hip-hop’s A-List.
It wasn’t easy to make a splash in a flooded market that now reads like who’s who of hip-hop history. The 1994 freshman class included classic debuts from Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Outkast, and Method Man.
So Common went back to the drawing board and returned with Chicago’s answer to Nas’s Illmatic, the soulful and lyrically advanced Resurrection. Instead of high-profile producers like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, or Q-Tip, Resurrection featured beats (and rhymes) from two relatively unknown Windy City upstarts: No I.D. and Ynot. Their goal: to put Chicago—a city better known for house than hip-hop—on the map.
Common, No I.D. and Ynot refined the sound they’d created on Can I Borrow A Dollar? (back when No I.D. was known as Immenslope, and Ynot was Twilite Tone), taking tricks they’d learned from their Relativity labelmates The Beatnuts and giving them their own Chicago flair.
Common’s sound matured, at age 22 he returned with a deeper voice, and moved away from the TV jingles and pop-culture references on which he’d relied so much before. Resurrection found Common Sense tackling complex concepts and addressing socially conscious issues. He came of age with a new look on life, Chicago, and the music business.
Although Resurrection didn’t sell big—it moved 2,000 copies in its first week, and debuted at No. 179 on the Billboard 200—it did spawn the seminal single “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” which remains one of hip-hop’s most revered and oft-duplicated records. The album was lauded by critics, and considered a classic among hip-hop aficionados and fans alike, some even considering this to be Common’s best work.
Common’s ascension to hip-hop’s elite class now finds him not only a rapper but also a best-selling author and a leading man in Hollywood. The same can be said for No I.D. who has produced hits for the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Drake, and now sits behind the desk as Executive Vice President of Def Jam.
With this week marking the 17th anniversary of this classic album dropping, we decided to stage a resurrection of our own and talk to those who contributed to Common’s seminal sophomore set. As you can see, we still love H.E.R....
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin), Andrew Barber (@FakeShoreDrive), & Keenan Higgins (@HIGzILLMATIC).
Before The Album
Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. a.k.a. Common a.k.a. Common Sense (Performer)
Dion Wilson a.k.a. No I.D. a.k.a. Immenslope (Producer, featured artist, & Common’s childhood friend)
Anthony Khan a.k.a. The Twilite Tone a.k.a. Ynot Never The Less (Producer, featured artist)
Derek Dudley (Common's longtime manager and friend)
Peter Kang (Executive producer & A&R for Relativity Records)
Lonnie “Pops” Lynn (Featured artist, Common’s father)
Before the album
Common: “When I started to work on Resurrection, I had thoughts like, ‘Man, I just released an album and not many people knew it came out. I want people to know that I’m here—I’m an MC, and I’m fresh.’ I was at a place where I was like, ‘I gotta really work to improve and to get better.’
“When you release your first album, you think, ‘Man, I’m dope,’ because all your friends telling you you dope.’ Then, once the world gets to it and you don’t see them going out to buy it, you’re not the talk of hip-hop, your album is not the album that everybody’s playing. Then you’re like, ‘I thought I had that!’ Then you realize... It’s like a wake-up call.
I even called the album Resurrection because, in many ways, I felt like I was dead to some people. People didn’t know about me. I remember looking at A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders cover and it had all the fresh, young dudes. I didn’t get asked to be on that cover, so that was, like, ‘Man! I didn’t get invited to the big game.’ I wanted to be included as part of the next movement of artists. [I felt like I was] overlooked. - Common
“I even called the album Resurrection because, in many ways, I felt like I was dead to some people. Some people didn’t know about me. [Laughs.] It’s like, ‘I want to awaken people to who I am and I’m probably coming from a place they didn’t even know. Not just Chicago, but Chicago and I’m an artist that they not really aware of.
“I remember looking at A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders cover and it had all the fresh, young dudes like The Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief, Del The Funkeé Homosapien, along with all the classic rappers like Extra P and De La Soul. I didn’t get asked to be on that cover, so that was, like, ‘Man! I didn’t get invited to the big game.’ I wanted to be included as part of the next movement of artists. [I felt like I was] overlooked.
“It was one of those things where I was like, ‘Man, it’s time for me to work.’ Different things contributed towards me growing as an MC. Part of it was just life.
I was out on my own really trying to make it and survive as a young man. I was figuring out how to take care of my responsibilities and bills. I’m also growing as a spiritual being too, because I was raised as a Christian and I still am, but I was learning about Islam.
“I was starting to read more, I was introduced to things like jazz music. I remember, I had John Coltrane’s Blue Trainposter up on my wall when I was working on that album. And I had a Souls of Mischief’s Hieroglyphics symbol too. It was just this white cover with a bluish Hieroglyphics logo. I had a couple album covers up in my room.
That training combined with me really starting to feed my soul and my mind with new things, it allowed me to grow and get better as an artist. That was definitely the beginning of [all the elements] coming together. - Common
“I would go to Battery Studios every Tuesday and Thursday. I would go every week. That allowed me to consistently be working and I think I do really well when I’m able to consistently work and build.
“No I.D. was growing as a producer. When we first went to New York, he got introduced to the Beatnuts and they were introducing him to new types of records. We already had records, but they was telling us some of the spots to go to where they were digging, where Q-Tip was digging, where Pete Rock was digging, where Extra P and Diamond D and all those guys were digging.
“Another thing, there was three dudes. They was from Indiana. Their names were Milo, Herb G, and Cath. Milo and Herb G spent a lot of time in Chicago and I met them through No I.D.. They was would just come around my house and we would be rapping and freestyling. We were freestyling and working every day, working at the art of MCing. It was training.
“That training combined with me really starting to feed my soul and my mind with new things, it allowed me to grow and get better as an artist. That was definitely the beginning of [all the elements] coming together.”
No I.D.: “At the time, there were two things going on in Chicago hip-hop. One of them was this group of people called Dem Dare, that was Tone’s thing. We weren’t really a part of that, so there was already a line drawn, because they were very strong-minded about things.
The reason I had more records on Resurrection was because I was never arguing with Common. I would be like, ‘Hey man, what do you want?’ And Tone was more like ‘No, this is what you need to do. This is how you should dress, and this is how it should be done.’ - No I.D.
“The reason I had more records on Resurrection was because I was never arguing with Common. I would be like, ‘Hey man, what do you want?’ And Tone was more like, ‘No, this is what you need to do. This is how you should dress, and this is how it should be done.’
“The way we grew up, it just wasn’t our style. So there was a clash there and that’s what kinda led me to doing more music with [Common]. I wasn’t there to clash, I was just trying to do records that he liked. There would be a lot of arguments and in-fighting, so it was super competitive at that time.
“We were UAC. That was our crew from 87th Street. We had to give ourselves a name so we called ourselves the UnAmerican Caravan. It was people from our neighborhood that used to go out and drink and fight. We were just totally different than the Dem Dare guys.
“We weren’t opposing, but there was definitely a lot of tension, because a lot of people on our side were street guys, and their side was like more Hyde Park creative types, who liked to dance and hang out. It was preppy vs. street for lack of a better word.”
The Twilight Tone: “I was both Ynot and Twilite Tone. I came up with the name Twilite Tone in the early 80s, and a lot of people think I got it from the Manhattan Transfer song, but it was actually from watching The Twilight Zone so much. I was also a big fan of what Afrika Bambaataa, Herbie Hancock, and Kraftwerk were doing—the whole futurist thing.
I hated Dion’s name: Immenslope. So I kept looking at Dion and I flipped it backwards and said, ‘You should call yourself No I.D., man.’ I didn’t want him to call himself Noid after the Domino’s Pizza guy [Laughs.] - The Twilight Tone
“When we were working on the first album, I hated Dion’s name: Immenslope. So I kept looking at Dion and I flipped it backwards and said, ‘You should call yourself No I.D., man.’ I didn’t want him to call himself Noid after the Domino’s Pizza guy. [Laughs.] And as soon as I said that he looked at me and said, ‘You know what, you should call yourself Ynot.’ And from that point on I was Ynot Never The Less.
“That went with the Dem Darian (Dem Dare) philosophy of the inner city, the ghetto. It was a character. We are from royal descent, we all had Knowledge of Self. We were Kings and queens of a place now called Africa. A lot of people didn’t get that, they thought it was about the arrogance—but it wasn’t arrogance—it was confidence. So Ynot Never The Less was a personification of the Dem Darian philosophy.”
“You have to understand that Ynot wasn’t about the rah rah. Us and the Dem Dare crew weren’t about that. Even with the Polo gear, we weren’t boosting or shoplifting Polo. We were taking the skills that we’d learned in the street—whether it be DJing, breaking, graffiti, looking good—and buying it ourselves. We were polishing it and making it professionally.
“I learned all of this stuff on the streets. I taught myself how to DJ, I taught myself how to produce, I taught myself how to rhyme. My family is immersed in music. People say my Auntie is Chaka Khan, so let me be clear about that. Hassan Khan is my uncle. Hassan named Chaka and married her. Chicago ain’t all about juking. It’s a very deep musical town.
Peter Kang: “On his first album, Common was kind of gimmicky. Even if you look at the cover of Can I Borrow A Dollar? it’s so gimmicky. He’s got a map of Chicago superimposed in the background, he’s holding out a cup that says Chicago on it, and it means he’s trying to put Chicago on the map. Plus the name of the album is Can I Borrow A Dollar? and he’s got a dollar sticking out. It was cool but it was a little bit kitschy. [Laughs.]
If you look at the cover of Can I Borrow A Dollar? it’s so gimmicky. He’s got a map of Chicago superimposed in the background, he’s holding out a cup that says Chicago on it, and it means he’s trying to put Chicago on the map. It was a little bit kitschy. - Peter Kang
“Songs that he did like ‘Breaker 1-9’ were all about catching people’s attention sort of in a gimmicky way. A lot of people compared him to Das FX but he was actually doing, he was developing his style independent of Das FX.
“Resurrection was just stripped down, bare bones, this is hip-hop. I’m not going to give you any gimmicks, I’m just going to give you amazing lyrics. He really went for was a more lyrical style and he took on a more spiritual, personal side which was not very common back then.
"Most of the MC’s were rhyming about fake gangsterism or just bragging and stuff but he took it to a more personal level and showed that it was cool to do that. He kind of just did away with the unnecessary stylistic things that people kind of did back then.”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “I think it was a different beat to it, originally. I can remember having that music of whatever I wrote to and just wanting to be really dope with the raps like, ‘Man, let me say some stuff.’
“I had a red Toyota Celica GT at the time, so I would drive around. That’s why I say ‘Cruisin’ Southside streets with no heat and no sticker.’ I didn’t have no heat in my car and I didn’t have a [City of Chicago vehicle] sticker. I would drive up and down Lake Shore Drive writing these rhymes and I started writing ‘Resurrection.’
Nas’ Illmatic wasn’t out, but I heard Nas on Bobbito & Stretch and I was like, ‘This dude is too good!’ It just made me have to grow quick. I hadn’t heard anybody rapping that good. Every word he was saying and the way he described things was just incredible. It really gave me insight on using my writing skills and poetic skills more. - Common
“When I said I was ‘eating beef sometimes’ I was trying to cut back on that shit. I stopped eating beef but I hadn’t done it all the way. I knew I wanted to do that. I stopped eating pork. That was all part of the transition of me growing into who I am now. I could definitely see that. I knew I wanted to be at a higher place, a better place. The change was starting and I could see it, but I wasn’t there yet.
“Another part to this album was the fact that Nas’ Illmatic wasn’t out, but I heard Nas on Bobbito & Stretch and I was like, ‘This dude is too good!’ It just made me have to grow quick. I hadn’t heard anybody rapping that good. Every word he was saying and the way he described things was just incredible. It really gave me insight on using my writing skills and poetic skills more.
“With ‘Resurrection,’ I had some of that in mind as I was playing with words like, ‘I bathe in baselines, rinse in riffs, dry in drums/Come from a tribe of bums, hooked on Negro and Mums.’ Negro was like a little champagne-type drink we would drink. I was just drinking, having fun, writing songs, and messing with girls.
“Once we had the song, we didn’t know what the hook was going to be. Originally, I wanted a scratch from ‘The World is Yours’ because after I wrote the rhyme Illmatic had come out and Nas said, ‘My son, the star, will be my resurrection.’ We wanted to scratch that, but it didn’t come off as well [as we thought it would].
“Either DJ Mista Sinister or No I.D. suggested ‘Nice & Smooth is your resurrection’ and that was so right because the way he was saying ‘resurrection.’ Then, Mr. Sinister could create a rhythm with scratching that we got him eventually after I laid the rhymes to do that ‘resurrection’ scratch.”
No I.D.: “We actually started that song with another beat. This track and ‘Nuthin To Do’ both ended up with different beats. A lot of the songs would start with me just trying to come up with a scratch and a beat.
Before that I was just a house music DJ, so when I was working on Can I Borrow A Dollar?, it was more of me digging out of my house crates trying to find samples in there. But after we finished that album, and began work on Resurrection, I’d met the Beatnuts and they taught me how to dig for samples. - No I.D.
“We’d felt the pressure of [Nas’] Illmatic coming out, and we were both 'like ‘Okay, it’s time for us to step this up three or four notches.’ I hooked the beat up and once he [Common] heard the ”resurrection”scratch he immediately started writing.
“Before that I was just a house music DJ, so when I was working on Can I Borrow A Dollar?, it was more of me digging out of my house crates trying to find samples in there. But after we finished that album, and began work on Resurrection, I’d met the Beatnuts and they taught me how to dig for samples. This guy V.I.C. that was down with them, Buckwild and Ju Ju (of the Beatnuts)—they were the reason I knew how to dig and make that specific style of hip-hop.
“We recorded the whole album on Long Island at Erick Sermon’s studio. Since our budget was so small, we didn’t work on songs in the studio. We’d work on the songs at home [in Chicago], and we’d just record them at the studio.
“We didn’t actually sit in the studio to listen and write to tracks, it was more like ‘Okay, we’re done writing, now lets go record all the songs at once—then we’ll mix them.’ We’d go to the east coast because they had all the engineers and equipment. They were already prepped in hip-hop. In Chicago at that time there was no real hip-hop studios. The engineers in Chicago were all House music engineers or did jingles or R&B.”
The Twilite Tone: “I think the only input I had on this record was that they used my Nice & Smooth record [Laughs.]. I thought the track was really good, but I loved the Extra P remix. Extra P is one of my favorite producers ever, so I thought that one was a bit harder—but I’m partial to P. [Laughs.] I loved the drums and the sample on the original, but Extra P came with those two versions and it was like ‘Wow.’ I’m not sure how we got Extra P to do those remixes, but I think Peter Kang did that.
“At this point, I was also pursuing a solo career with my group The Late Show, so all of my eggs weren’t in the Resurrection basket. Of course everyone knew me from the work I did with Rashid—the cameo appearances I had with him. One was the b-side of the ‘Soul By The Pound’ single, a song called ‘Can I Bust.’
I think I gave Rashid 30 or 40 tracks for this album, and the final result was only two records from me, and No I.D. did the rest. After the last batch of tracks I gave him, he pulled the classic Rashid: “Man, you got any more tracks?” and I was fed up [Laughs.]. I was like ‘You’re tripping man!’ - The Twilite Tone
“I think I gave Rashid 30 or 40 tracks for this album, and the final result was only two records from me, and No I.D. did the rest. After the last batch of tracks I gave him, he pulled the classic Rashid: “Man, you got any more tracks?” and I was fed up [Laughs.]. I was like ‘You’re tripping man!’
“I remember I had a conversation with No I.D. and we were supposed to have a lockout [Laughs.], but that didn’t work. So No I.D. finished the album while I was on lockout, and while I finished The Late Show. Even when I was mad at Rashid, I still put my best into it. I’m gonna rise above emotion and give them the best quality products and services I can provide. It’s a reflection on me—I don’t want to look wack. Even though I’m only on two tracks, I think my work speaks for itself.”
Derek Dudley: “My fondest memory of the song is really the video. We did the video over the course of a few days with Nick Quested. We actually met him when he came in to save the ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ video, and we all became friends. So we had him back out to Chicago to shoot ‘Resurrection.’
“We hung out for like four or five days, and took this white English guy all over Chicago. We took him to Cabrini-Green, Stateway Gardens, had him on the L [ train]. It was just him and a camera in the heart of the Southside. We took him to 87th, where we shot the video at Godfather’s on Stony Island.
They had a camera in the back of a van, and somebody smashed the window of the van and took the video camera, with the video in it. We’d shot for all this time and then the camera with the video gets stolen. But fortunately, word got around and the camera and its contents were returned safely and we ended up having a video for ‘Resurrection.’ - Derek Dudley
“Actually, there was a situation where they had a camera in the back of a van, and somebody smashed the window of the van and took the video camera, with the video in it. We’d shot for all this time and then the camera with the video gets stolen. But fortunately, word got around and the camera and its contents were returned safely and we ended up having a video for ‘Resurrection.’ [Laughs.]
“We also had the Nation of Islam and the F.O.I. (Fruit of Islam) do their routine in the video. It was just monumental. It encompassed everything that we grew up with in Chicago—it was like a tutorial of our view of Chicago at that time. Nick did a great job of capturing the essence of what Chicago was. We had gang handshakes in the video that people had never seen before, and people would ask us questions about that for years. It really helped put the Southside of Chicago on the map.
“We also had Bishop Don ‘Magic’ Juan in the video, and because he was in it, I got a call from the Hughes Brothers as they were trying to reach him to use him in a documentary they were working on called American Pimp. I got Don on the phone with Allen Hughes and a few years later he was in their documentary movie, American Pimp [Laughs.]. It was an interesting turn of events.”
I Used to Love H.E.R.
“I Used to Love H.E.R.”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “I can remember when Dion gave me the beat for ‘I Used to Love H.E.R.’ I heard that and I was overwhelmed. I loved it. I was sitting at home at one night with my boys Murray and ‘Te. Biante. We were up late night. I was drinking they were smoking weed.
“They were talking about something, I can’t remember what, but my mind start drifting and I remember having that thought really quick about hip-hop being a girl while they were talking. When they left that night, I put the beat on and started thinking about if hip-hop was a woman and I started writing that song.
“The next time I was going to the studio, I was going to record it. My roommate Rassan was in the studio while I was recording. While I was recording I was looking at him and he was drinking a Heineken—we would always order pizza and some Heinekens. I was sitting in the studio rapping ‘I Used to Love H.E.R.’
My roommate Rassan was in the studio while I was recording the song. I can see him from the booth, he’s sitting there shaking his head, sipping, and frowning as I’m doing it. He thought I was talking to a woman. I got to the last line, ‘Who I’m talkin’ ’bout y’all? It’s hip-hop,’ and soon as I said it, he threw his hands up and was grabbing his head like, ‘Oh, shit! I can’t believe this!’ - Common
“We was at that stage where doing a love song was like, ‘Nah, it’s bros before hoes. What are you talking about doing a love song?’ [Laughs.] So, I’m rapping this song and it’s a love song to Rassan. I can see him from the booth, he’s sitting there shaking his head, sipping, and frowning as I’m doing it. He thought I was talking to a woman. I couldn’t wait to drop it on ’em!
“I got to the last line, ‘Who I’m talkin’ ’bout y’all? It’s hip-hop,’ and soon as I said it, he threw his hands up and was grabbing his head like, ‘Oh, shit! I can’t believe this!’
I walked [out of the booth] and he’s like, “Whoa, man! My nigga, you are incredible! Play that again!’ I remember that for sure. That made me feel good. [Laughs.]
“When I did the hook, I was just going, ‘Yes, yes, y’all! And ya don’t stop!’ That’s why you can hear me going, ‘Check it on, check the mm-mm mm,’ because I didn’t have anything. I was just chanting and it came out. I didn’t think twice.
“I didn’t know too much about really making good hooks. It was just whatever thought come at that point. Then, we scratched some of the hooks. I grew up on Gang Starr and Pete Rock, stuff like that. That’s what was on their choruses, so that’s what we did.”
No I.D.: "‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’, from a production standpoint, was a brainchild of the style I developed on ‘Soul By The Pound.’ I had a bassline sound that I would play with the SP1200—it just had a certain sound and a feel to it. I was really into the melodies of the George Benson sample [‘The Changing World’], but I wanted to make it harder with that bassline.
After this record came out, I started to get calls from other artists inquiring about production. Before that I never got calls like that. I’d get a call like ‘Biggie wants a beat’ and I’d be blown away. It was a foreign concept to me. Biggie, Pun, Ghostface—I’d never got calls like that before. - No I.D.
“Common came with this incredible story, which at the time we had no idea would be so revered. Common and Twilite Tone talked about the concept before he talked to me about it. My role was refining it into a song, orchestrating the musical changes, and helping Rash structure the bars—making sure he rapped on beat.
"But once he had the rap in his head, it was just a matter of making it come across the best. I give him full credit on that one. It definitely wasn’t a thing where I said ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea, do this.’
“We shot the video in Chicago. We actually shot two or three videos before it came out right. The version that the world saw was actually the third version, after we wasted a ton of money on the first two. [Laughs.]
“I felt like ‘Soul By The Pound,’ started to get us to the next level but ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ catapulted us all the way over. It was way more revered. We were respected with ‘Soul By The Pound’ but it was ‘Oh my God this is something special!’ with ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’
After this record came out, I started to get calls from other artists inquiring about production. Before that I never got calls like that. I’d get a call like ‘Biggie wants a beat’ and I’d be blown away. It was a foreign concept to me. Biggie, Pun, Ghostface—I’d never got calls like that before. That’s the first time when I thought ‘Maybe I’m onto something here.’”
The Twilite Tone: “First of all, let me give all of the credit and accolades to Rashid and Dion [No I.D.] for coming up with that song. My involvement with this song is either coincidental or influential—people that’s close to me know that I was developing a song before I’d heard ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ called ‘You Are My Music’ which was the exact same premise.
I was such a competitor. I was competing with Rash as a rapper and with Dion as a producer. I would always say ‘My shit is better. That shit’s cool, but my shit’s better.’ [Laughs.] It was just like that. We had a competitors’ spirit amongst each other. - The Twilite Tone
“Then I heard ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ and I was like ‘Oh snap, he beat me to the punch!’ I don’t even remember if we ever talked about that, or if that was a bone of contention, but I was working on the same song at the same time. It was so crazy.
But when I heard Rash’s, I thought it was amazing. At the time, though, I was such a competitor. I was competing with Rash as a rapper and with Dion as a producer.
"I would always say ‘My shit is better. That shit’s cool, but my shit’s better.’ [Laughs.] It was just like that. We had a competitors’ spirit amongst each other.”
Derek Dudley: “At the time we had no idea this record would be something people would be talking about 20 years later. ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ was that song that solidified Common in hip-hop. Especially on the East Coast and West Coast—that’s when people started to take us seriously.
“I remember being in the back of Battery Studios when I first heard it. Common had been working on a handful of songs, and I hadn’t been to the studio in a few days so I had yet to hear them. He told me he was going to play me a song called ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ so I was like ‘Cool.’ So I’m in the studio listening to it, and at first I didn’t know he was talking about hip-hop—I thought he was talking about a girl.
“I’m thinking to myself ‘What girl could this be?’ Because we’d grown up together and I’d known all of his relationships and I’m like, ‘I don’t know who this girl is.’ It dawned on me [at the end] ‘Oh, he’s talking about hip-hop.’ I was just blown away with how he metaphorically wove the journey of hip-hop into a relationship.
“We picked it as a single because we felt like ‘Man, this song is going to grab everyone’s attention.’ We felt like this was the song we had to come out with at the time. It wasn’t like we thought it would give us the best chance at radio or anything like that. We just knew it was a song that would pull people’s heartstrings. One of those songs that would grab people emotionally more than anything. People just connected to it.”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “‘Watermelon’ was one of the songs we did later in the album. That beat was so fresh to me. That’s when I applied my emceeing. I wanted to say clever things and punchlines. That was a direct descent of all that working on the freestyles and wanting to light up emceeing.
"I did that chant, ‘I come to the party in a b-boy stance/I rock on the mic, make the girls wanna dance,’ so, obviously, I’m still coming from hip-hop. But ‘Watermelon’ was about me emceeing; ‘I express like an interstate, hyper when I ventilate/My rap pieces penetrate and infiltrate your mental state.’
For me, it was like, ‘You got Souls of Mischief out there, you got Nas out there, you got all these other MCs that’s bringing something.’ I just wanted to bring that cleverness, that Chicago-ness and that’s what ‘Watermelon’ was. - Common
"For me, it was like, ‘You got Souls of Mischief out there, you got Nas out there, you got all these other MCs that’s bringing something.’ I just wanted to bring that cleverness, that Chicago-ness and that’s what ‘Watermelon’ was.
"It actually became one of the songs that some people that know Common or know Resurrection and they be like, “Ay, man, when you gon’ do ‘Watermelon?’ I want some of that stuff like ‘Watermelon’.’”
No I.D.: “Whenever me and [Common] worked it was more like a joust. It wasn’t ‘Let’s sit down and create something.’ I just put that ‘Watermelon’ chorus on there because I was challenging him to see if he could take anything and make something ill out of it. There was no real chorus. It was almost like he was freestyling.
“Me and Common sequenced the album together. When I sequence, I sequence based on musical mood changes, and ‘Watermelon’ just worked. I like how different songs move my moods back and forth musically, because then it doesn’t get redundant.
"Common may have been debating over topical sequencing—what records should have been where. I was like ‘Nah, Watermelon breaks that up and leads into this better’ It was the perfect transition musically.“
Whenever me and [Common] worked it was more like a joust. It wasn’t ‘Let’s sit down and create something.’ I just put that ‘Watermelon’ chorus on there because I was challenging him to see if he could take anything and make something ill out of it. There was no real chorus. It was almost like he was freestyling. - No I.D.
The Twilite Tone: “That was really just Common freestyling on there. If you listen to how Rashid was on the first album, and you see how he rhymed on the second album, it was a quantum leap. The reason why is because in between those two albums, we recorded a song called ‘Can I Bust.’
“On that record, Com was still using his old style and old antics, and you can see that I wasn’t on that. Not only rhythmically, but I was a straight lyricist. I wasn’t playing around. I was really scientific with how I approached rhyming at the time.
“After that record, you could see it in their eyes, it was time for Rashid to change how he was rhyming. Going into the second album, Nas had come out with Illmatic, so Rash got real serious—and it was articulated on songs like ‘Watermelon.’
“Rashid was more on his emcee game. He wasn’t on no goofy TV skits and sound effects. It was a complete switch up. I believe I was a major influence on the album from that aspect. When it comes to the rhyming, the extended metaphors, I was very influential. Rashid had that drive to get better after he got his ass whooped by me on ‘Can I Bust.’ [Laughs.]”
Book of Life
“Book of Life”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “That was one of the first—if not thefirst—beats that No I.D. made for that album and it was one of the first songs I recorded for the album. That was the first song I wrote that really was me talking about stepping into manhood.
I wasn’t trying to do anything but just write with my heart and experience. I was being somewhat clever with it, but cleverness doesn’t take precedence over what your soul’s saying. - Common
“I was like, ‘I’m 22, catch, in the prime of my life/I have no time for a wife/I funnel through the tunnel, disgruntled/Trying to find me some light.’ I was coming into an analogous self and awareness and I wanted to express my book of life.
“When I called it my ‘Book of Life,’ it was really about writing that life lesson and where I was at right then and there. I wasn’t trying to do anything but just write with my heart and experience. I was being somewhat clever with it, but cleverness doesn’t take precedence over what your soul’s saying.
“When I did ‘Book of Life’ and it was kinda serious—I don’t know if my team was ready for that yet. One thing about music is that you might make a song that’s relative to your life at that time, and some people may be younger and they might not feel it at a certain point. But some people grow into it, [they get] where you were when you wrote it.
“That song was the first of the beginning of a spiritual song that I had in that way and just me talking about my life. I would have to hear some of these things, too, to tell you more about [the song]. That’s what I remember from it.”
No I.D.: “This was another child of the ‘Soul By The Pound’ beat. Again, a lot of these concepts he’d come up with, and we’d sit around trying to come up with good scratches to use along with it. I think he actually came up with that ‘Here’s a little story that must be told’ scratch.
A lot of the songs didn’t have that much structure back then. It was basically me trying to prove that I was a good producer and him trying to prove that he was a good rapper. - No I.D.
“Common would drive around in his car to write his raps, and get a feel for the song, so I wouldn’t be there when he’d come up with it. I’d only help structure the song if I gave him the chorus, and then I’d let him build around it. I wouldn’t have much involvement in his writing other than ‘This is what the song’s going to be called, and here’s the beat.’
“He would just come back and say ‘Here’s the raps I got.’ Then it was trying to figure out how we turn this into a song. Because a lot of the songs didn’t have that much structure back then.
"It was basically me trying to prove that I was a good producer and him trying to prove that he was a good rapper—and then we try to make a song out of it.”
In My Own World (Check the Method)
“In My Own World (Check the Method)” f/ No I.D.
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “No I.D. rhymed on the first album and all my boys was like, ‘Man, Dion ate you up. His voice is so good.’ I was like, ‘Man, I gotta be able to say something on this because on ‘Two Scoops of Raisin,’ he won that battle.’ No matter what, when you rapping on a song with somebody, somebody always say, ‘Man, such-and-such killed him.’ So, you better kill it.
No I.D. rhymed on the first album and all my boys was like, ‘Man, Dion ate you up. His voice is so good.’ I was like, ‘Man, I gotta be able to say something on this because on ‘Two Scoops of Raisin,’ he won that battle.’ No matter what, when you rapping on a song with somebody, somebody always say, ‘Man, such-and-such killed him.’ So, you better kill it. - Common
“No I.D. might have made that when we were back in Chicago, I’m not sure. But it was one of those songs where it was like, ‘I gotta come with it because No I.D. is on it. He been killing’ it.’
“We went out to Long Island to do some of the mixing on the album. This one engineer, I went rolling with him and we went to get some weed. I ain’t a big weed smoker, but I got some weed. I smoked it and I started tripping.
“I had a bad trip. I was sitting on the bed just rubbing my knees, like, ‘Oh, shit!’ I was thinking I was gonna die. I was thinking all kinds of crazy things. I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know what’s up.’ I was on a bad trip for two days. I ended up having to go back to Chicago and just get calmed down.
“I like the whole ‘Yeah, now check the method!’ That was one of my favorite lines on that Midnight Marauders album. That and Buhloone Mindstate, those two specific albums really had a big influence on me. Illmatic came later on in the process of me making the album, but hearing’ Nas influenced me.”
No I.D.: “That was a song that was originally mine, and Common wanted it. The history of me doing beats for him started when we were all in a rap group together when we were younger. So when I left college and came back around, I had to make my own beats to rhyme on. But most of the time when I’d do beats for myself, Common would hear them and say ‘No, I want that one for myself.’ So I’d already had a verse on it. So that was actually Common jumping on my record. [Laughs.]
I’d rapped on Can I Borrow A Dollar? [as Immenslope] and everyone kept telling him that I outrapped him. So it became a little personal for him at that point. [Laughs.] Looking back at it, it wasn’t even a friendly competition, it was pretty unfriendly. - No I.D.
"I’d rapped on Can I Borrow A Dollar? [as Immenslope] and everyone kept telling him that I outrapped him. So it became a little personal for him at that point. [Laughs.] Looking back at it, it wasn’t even a friendly competition, it was pretty unfriendly. [Laughs.]
“Once I saw the music business change, I realized being a rapper wasn’t something I wanted to do. I did have one album come out (Accept Your Own & Be Yourself: The Black Album), and being a creative person, sometimes you just have to get that energy out. I wanted to see if I could sink or swim; and it satisfied me. But then I realized I didn’t want to tour—I did one or two shows and one video and I was like, ‘Enough.’
"As a producer though, I still contribute. Sometimes I’ll tell the rapper how the song should go, or contribute patterns, or give them lines. I still have it in me. I still write, but I have no aspirations to rap ever again. [Laughs.] Now I’m around the best rappers in the world, but having that charisma and all those other intangibles, I’m not interested in any of that. [Laughs.]"
Another Wasted Nite With
“Another Wasted Nite With...”
Produced by: N/A
Common: “That was my boy [David Grant]. Me and my roommate Rassan stayed in an apartment in Hyde Parks. [David] really left his message for Rassan. Mo’ is a character, he was just that guy. He was a funny dude that just had a lot of personality.
So many people would come quote that to me from artists like Posdnuos from De La Soul and The Roots, to cats that I knew, to fans that I met. - Common
“When I heard that answering machine message, I was like, ‘Don’t erase it!’ It was just so perfect. I remember looking at the answering and I being so happy. Just the things he was saying were so funny to us and it was so Chicago.’ [Laughs.]
“I knew I had to keep that because it was so Chicago, it was what me and my homies was about and it was so funny. So many people would come quote that to me from artists like Posdnuos from De La Soul and The Roots, to cats that I knew, to fans that I met. Eventually, it got so big, he would joke, ‘Man, I need a royalty check for that.’ [Laughs.]”
[Ed. Note—David Grant, the voice on the answering machine skit, declined to comment for this piece, but wishes “Peace and Love.”]
Nuthin’ to Do
“Nuthin’ to Do”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “That song was so definitive to where I was in my life at the time. That was like what we were doing at the time, just hanging out, getting with girls, and even if didn’t smoke weed all the time I would make a stop to get weed. I was into beers, Heineken was the shit. We would just be them dudes who would be getting in trouble drinking. You see a nigga just out on the curb stopping anywhere to pee. Just having fun in a Chicago way.
“That’s how we would do, we would look for stuff to get into. We would pile up in the car and just be rolling to a party, hollering at some girls, a dude say something wrong or he looked wrong or we heard he said something wrong and we get to fighting. Just mopping dudes, we would go for ours.
When we came into the parties, people would be like, ‘Aww man, we can’t even have a good time no more’ because we would look for trouble. Just mopping dudes, we would go for ours. - Common
“When we came into the parties, people would be like, ‘Aww man, we can’t even have a good time no more’ because we would look for trouble. That was like our release in a way. We were mostly fighting but we would go downtown and sometimes rob people but not as much as we were fighting. Those fights were usually caused by us drinking and some dude would look some way or some girl would be like, ‘This dude said this about you.’
“We looked for any little thing to get into a fight. These was some dudes we didn’t like from certain neighborhoods, so if we saw one of them at a party it was automatically on. Sometimes, it would get to shooting but not often. I had a couple of friends that did some stuff.
“I had guns pulled on me with dudes shooting. One instance, we were rivaling with these dudes. We stayed around 87th street. There was [Chicago gangs] Blackstones, Four Corner Hustlers, and Vice Lords and sometimes we would be into it with other dudes because of where we lived or over girls. There were dudes we always used to get into with, and once you start mopping dudes, one dude might up that thang.
“I remember, a dude pulled a gun on us up in my school. I had gotten into a fight with this one dude over this girl I was going with. So his boy came up later because there was enough of us up in my school. I had already beat the dude one on one, but he was always talking shit, so he had his homie come up and homie had that thing for real so we had to get up out of these quick. Luckily, when dude was trying to get his gun ready to shoot, one of my boys stopped him from doing it.”
No I.D.: “We had a different beat to that record at first. After we went for that first stretch to record the album [in Long Island], we figured out we didn’t like the original version.
We didn’t have real budgets when we were doing this. They were just giving us enough money to go in the studio and do it. To be honest, when we did Can I Borrow A Dollar?, they gave us $600 to do the album. - No I.D.
“I used to do beats and record them as the message on my answering machine; back when they had those little tape recorders. [Common] used to call and listen to those beats over and over and he’d write raps like that. We had a real weird process.
“Back then, you either had it on cassette or you didn’t have it. And on top of that, we didn’t always have the proper technology to take it from the drum machine to cassette. So we’d have to do the best that we could do. No laptops, no ProTools. I’d do my part, he’d do his, and we’d just have to imagine what they’d sound like together.
“We didn’t have real budgets when we were doing this. They were just giving us enough money to go in the studio and do it. To be honest, when we did Can I Borrow A Dollar?, they gave us $1600 to do the album. It was so low that it was basically like no money—especially by today’s standards.
“You’ll notice that Common’s voice, delivery and subject matter kinda changed in this time, too. It was like ‘Okay, enough of the silly stuff. That’s cool, but that era isn’t what it is anymore.’ A lot of it was that his voice changed between albums, and got a little deeper.
In my opinion—and also this is something echoed by Rob Swift of The X-Ecutioners—but those are some of the best scratches that you’ll ever hear on any hip-hop record. I mean, I really challenge anyone to tell me where you can find better DJ work [than what DJ Mista Sinister did on that album]. - Peter Kang
“He really had different voices before his rap career. Sometimes he’d rap real low like Rakim, or even lower like Tone Loc. It was a running joke. It was like ‘Okay man, let’s get real and cut this silly shit’ [Laughs]. And we weren’t silly dudes—we were in real neighborhoods with real stuff going on. We weren’t some little kid jokesters, so we knew it was time to tighten it up.“
The Twilite Tone: “They used my Ol’ Dirty Bastard [Wu-Tang Clan] record to scratch on that one. Joey [Mista] Sinista [of the X-ecutioners] did the scratches on that Joey was a major creator when it comes to turntablism and scratching—he was insane. He was so precise with everything.
“I did all of the scratches on Can I Borrow A Dollar?, but none on Resurrection. I cut and scratch more with style. Joey and those guys were straight speed—that’s not saying they didn’t have style, because they did. Joey was able to do about anything because he was so fast and had flavor. That’s why he was appointed to do cuts and scratches on this album, and I had no opposition to that.”
Peter Kang: "In my opinion—and also this is something echoed by Rob Swift of The X-Ecutioners—but those are some of the best scratches that you’ll ever hear on any hip-hop record. I mean, I really challenge anyone to tell me where you can find better DJ work [than what DJ Mista Sinister did on that album]. In terms of a DJ working with an MC. Finding the right pieces to scratch into the song that completely works into the song on that level I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else."
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: "I got the beat and I just thought it was so cold. When I sat down and had the beat I was thinking, I want to do a song where I play with the word 'com' in front of everything. I might have looked in the dictionary to find any 'coms' but I don't think I found any. I wanted it to still be a true rap but just use 'com.'
"When I say 'Jack Jill's big booty,' I'm referencing a house song from Chicago. I would refernece a lot of Chicago stuff because MCing to me, the first person you wanted to impress was yourself, second you wanted to impress your homies, and then you wanted to impress fellow MCs, and then you want the whole world to hear it. So I thought that would be a dope concept [that would impress people.]
When I say 'Jack Jill's big booty,' I'm referencing a house song from Chicago. I would refernece a lot of Chicago stuff because MCing to me, the first person you wanted to impress was yourself, second you wanted to impress your homies, and then you wanted to impress fellow MCs, and then you want the whole world to hear it. So I thought that would be a dope concept [that would impress people.] - Common
"Some of the feedback I had got on why I didn't sell no records was becuase I was rapping too complex. I consider myself an intelligent person and I was a good student, so I had a certain sensibility about things. I don't think my raps were complex as much as they were coded in Chicago streets, some of it was playing on words that were deeper or using mathematics or Knowledge of Self. So maybe people did think it was complex or it was their way of saying they didn't like it.
No I.D.: “That record had a dope concept. I can’t really pinpoint who came up with the concept, but I believe it was Common. I did this beat and [the beat for] ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ at the same time. And I played him both of the beats on the same night. I used to have a stack of equipment on the dresser at my Mom’s house—I used to call it the leaning tower of equipment. I did them there on a new piece of equipment I’d picked up. If you listen, those two tracks aren’t far off musically, so that was the feel I was going for on both beats, and he ended up picking both of them.”
The Twilite Tone: “You can hear Nas’s influence on that record, but more than anything I feel like I had a lot of influence on that record. To be honest, I think Rashid started to create his own sound and lane here.
“Both No I.D. and I were getting better at producing at this time, and we began to dig more. The music was sounding better and the quality was improving beat wise. We had guys like the Beatnuts in our corner. Not only did we get an education on digging, but they inspired us to dig.
Resurrection was our statement to say: ‘Nah, you’re gonna take us serious. Fuck that Can I Borrow A Dollar? shit.’ Fuck asking 'Can I,' no—we were taking it now. You have to respect us. - The Twilite Tone
“We not only found the records that everyone was looking for, but more importantly, we started finding our own records. This led to us making our own style of beats. This was something that started in the ’80s for us, but in the ’90s, music just got serious.
“We just wanted to be perceived a certain way, especially coming out of Chicago. We went to these music seminars, and went to perform in New York, and we never got booed. We might have gotten silenced or something like that, because New York was a bunch of assholes at the time. [Laughs.] We wasn’t no handicaps - no one was giving us charity. Motherfuckers would boo you in a second, and you didn’t get no props, you had to earn props.
“Back then it wasn’t like ‘Yo, I’m down with such and such rapper’ and then you’re on. Nah, we had to earn everything. And Resurrection was our statement to say: ‘Nah, you’re gonna take us serious. Fuck that Can I Borrow A Dollar? shit.’ Fuck asking 'Can I,' no—we were taking it now. You have to respect us. We had real dudes in our corner. We had the Beatnuts in our corner. When we met the Beatnuts we realized it was serious.
“Certain records would be $400, people would drive to small towns across the country searching for records, it was like ‘Yo, this shit is a competition.’ Showbiz & AG, Beatminerz, Large Professor—it was like ‘Oh shit.’ It wasn’t just about making beats anymore, it was about using the record first or finding the original copy of the album. Ju Ju and [Psycho] Les are like my older brothers, or cousins. They really inspired us to get serious about digging and making beats. I have the ultimate love and respect for them.“
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “God bless [Mohammad Ali’s] soul. He died. Mohammad was this brother from Relativity who was an incredible radio promotions guy. He was one of the most dedicated and profound radio people that I ever dealt with. Profound meaning, not just talented, but effective.
“That’s who I went on my first promotion [tour] with. He was there when we first signed and really felt close to us and was always there to support us. He saw that we were good kids by heart.
“He always used to do this radio talk. He had his radio voice. I just asked him to do that over because No I.D. had a dope sample for that. We knew it needed to be a skit. Mohammad had his ups and downs in life. He was one of the good dudes in this game.”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “That song meant a lot to me because that was me declaring like, ‘Man, this is what type of person I am.’ One important thing about being from Chicago to me is that I never wanted to hide anything. The way I was raised was like, if you got a big head, you got a big head. If you got a big nose, you got a big nose. If your daddy was cheating on your mother, he was cheating on your momma. You just didn’t hide things.
“‘Thisisme’ was like a stream of consciousness. I remember that sample I really used to love because it was so soulful. That song was my declaration of like, you gonna have to accept me for who I am because this is the type of person I am. I ain’t trying to be this and I ain’t trying to be that. I go through these things and I feel these emotions.
That song was my declaration of like, you gonna have to accept me for who I am because this is the type of person I am. I ain’t trying to be this and I ain’t trying to be that. It definitely was a self-discovery and proclamation of that. - Common
“It definitely was a self-discovery and proclamation of that. I always can reference ‘I love the way I am and can’t nobody out here change me.’ When you scratch that down, it’s like I know who I am and I’ll grow within that. You can inspire me and give me good advice, but I know the call of who I am and this is me.”
No I.D.: “We both came up with that chorus. I remember it was really hard to nail the beat—it took a lot of effort to make it work on the SP1200. It was an off-beat sample that I had to chop up in so many pieces to keep on beat. We borrowed the ‘Cooooommon’ part from ‘Take It EZ,’ because it was so catchy and people loved it. We knew we had to put it into a real chorus.
“Creating beats on those old machines was kinda like trying to build a wall with a hammer instead of an air nailer [Laughs]. It was crazy. But knowing that is what makes me good at what I do today, because I can always reference the creative things I had to do because of the lack of sample time and technology.
“A lot of people’s sampling today is not creative because they don’t know what it was like to sample when you didn’t have unlimited ability. So some of the tricks I had to use back then turned into an actual style of producing. We didn’t speed up records to make them sound sped up, we sped them up because the SP1200 had :10 seconds of sample time. So to maximize it you sped up the sample and sampled it.”
Rashid and his crew? Man, those motherfuckers were wild. They were from 87th Street. Some of the guys a little older than Rashid were straight gang-banging motherfuckers—dudes you didn’t want any problems with. I was just glad they were smiling when they saw me. - The Twilite Tone
The Twilite Tone: “Yeah he was silly on the first album, but on the strength—Rashid and his crew? Man, those motherfuckers were wild. They were from 87th Street. The cats where I was from in Hyde Park and Kenwood [High School], they didn’t like Rashid.
"But Rashid and them loved me, especially when I’d do parties over there. They would come to parties and always get into fights. Even though they were some preppy kids, and basketball players—they stayed fighting.
“And some of the guys a little older than Rashid were straight gang-banging motherfuckers—dudes you didn’t want any problems with. I was just glad they were smiling when they saw me [Laughs.]. These cats could really throw hands if they needed to.
"Him saying ‘This is me’ was saying ‘This is what I’m about.’ This is my crew. This is where I’m from. The song was real melancholy and real happy, and it gave him the perfect platform to articulate who he was as a person. Not necessarily who he was as a rapper, but who he was as a person.
“It was special because back then when people were talking about ‘Keeping it real,’ they’d talk about gang-banging and drug dealing and drive-bys. But Rashid was one of the first people to ‘Keep it real’ or show realness in another light—other than shooting and slanging crack. Yeah he talked about getting girls and getting into fights, but he also discussed many other things and I applaud him for that.”
Orange Pineapple Juice
“Orange Pineapple Juice”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common:“That’s a lot of people’s favorite song. That was one of the earlier songs we recorded. I would go in sometimes and just be free with it. That was one of them raps where it was just fun, taking it different places, using your voice for different things, and using all this personality.
I was really just being open and using what we would call flavor. It was like using your voice with different tones to just give it that juice. - Common
“What you heard in that song was some of the personality that I picked up from my friends and picked up from who I am—having fun with it and really just being open and using what we would call flavor. It was like using your voice with different tones to just give it that juice.
“I only called that ‘Orange Pineapple Juice’ because I used to always drink orange pineapple juice at the time. I used to like those type of abstract titles. I would like to hear it because there were certain ad-libs and stuff that I did that on there. When you’re recording, different things just come out. That was truly your raw form and not thinking too much. [You were] just having fun with the rap.”
No I.D.: “When he was doing his raps I said ‘Alright, we did ‘Watermelon,’ now let’s do ‘Orange Pineapple Juice.’ It was all about flavor. You know, flavor used to be a word we used in hip-hop like ‘That has flavor, he got flavor, whatever.’
"Chapter 13 (Rich Man Vs. Poor Man)" f/ Ynot
Produced by: Ynot
Common:“We just talked about that the other day—my boy Rassan was saying that Twilight Tone ripped me on that. He called himself Ynot at that time. Tone had came on this one song and really smashed me on this song called ‘Can-I-Bust,’ which is on the flip side of ‘Soul By The Pound.’
Tone was on that ‘I’m Rich’ thing. He had a crew that was all about ‘We rock Polo.’ That era was them. Even if you ask Kanye, he remembers them. They definitely impacted Kanye in some way. - Common
“When he had this beat for ‘Rich Man/Poor Man,’ I was like, ‘This is dope.’ He was like, ‘I need to get a verse on this,’ so he was getting his verse and I was like, ‘Man, I’m about to come with some stuff.’ I came with that concept, Black man/White man/Chinese man.
“Obviously you used to tell these jokes when you were young, so I thought it was clever to talk about. Especially because Tone was on that ‘I’m Rich’ thing. He had a crew that was all about ‘We rock Polo.’ That era was them. Even if you ask Kanye, he remembers them. They definitely impacted Kanye in some way.
“I was on the poor man, blue collar perspective. Me and all my guys had working jobs and some were trying to hustle just to make it. We weren’t as flashy as those dudes were. That’s where that whole thought came in. Even if we got money, it’s like ‘This dude ain’t got money so I’m gonna look out for him.’ We still wanted to look good, but that wasn’t the first thing. We was probably gonna spend out money on beers and bills.”
The Twilite Tone: “Some people thought I was a little too hype on ‘Can I Bust,’ so I really wanted people to hear what I was saying this time around. I wanted people to also feel my production and see a perfect balance between the two. I didn’t let Rashid hear my rhymes before he recorded, because I didn’t want him to be influenced by what I was going to do. I didn’t let him hear my rhymes on ‘Can I Bust,’ and I didn’t let him hear my rhymes on ‘Chapter 13.’
“All I asked him was, ‘What’s the last word you’re coming with?’ so I could kick off my verse. I was out to prove I wasn’t no joke, like ‘Yo If you missed me the first time, this is my style and I’m so comfortable with it.’ Everything I say on this shit is going to make sense, and it’s all serious business. These rhymes were so advanced. This is something you could kick now. People are still figuring this shit out years later.
I was very adamant about pushing the envelope of hip-hop—I was almost too serious about it. - The Twilite Tone
“Trackwise, I wanted to make something that was my style. “So when I went into making that beat, I chopped up the Detroit Emeralds drums [‘You're Getting a Little too Smart’], the same drums Dilla used for ‘The Light.’ And I chopped up Archie Whitewater [‘Cross Country’]—the only other person I know messed with that was my man Extra P. That was something I had found—no one told me about that record. I used the Akai 2800 and used the SP1200 for the drums.
“The beat was also ahead of its time. I didn’t even have hi-hats going on. It was straight kick and drums. The way I was doing snatches—nobody was doing snatch-outs like that back then. It took almost 10 years for other people to do that. I was very adamant about pushing the envelope of hip-hop—I was almost too serious about it.
“Peter Kang and them wanted to make this record a single. They wanted to shoot a video and everything. I don’t know what happened, but it never ended up happening. The label and Peter Kang were pushing for it, and that was to be the beginning of the career of Ynot and The Late Show. Peter Kang had wanted to sign me, but unfortunately in my ignorance of the record industry, I sad I was in a crew, and didn’t take the solo deal because I had loyalty to the crew. I didn’t know I could take the deal and then bring them along later. I’m not gonna say ‘I woulda, coulda, shoulda,’ because that was a great record and a great moment in my life. I learned a lot from it.”
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “That was a good-feeling song. That was my version of ‘I’m gonna get it pumping. I’m gonna get some energy’ party feel. It was real hip-hop. That whole thought process of ‘maintaining’ was a big phrase at that time. I took heed to that, even though it wasn’t a Chicago thing.
“I love the concept. We sampled Milo’s ‘Maintain the rock, don’t stop the rock.’ That was really No I.D. producing a dope beat and me doing my version of some rapping. It would be in a party in my interpretation of it, but it never got played in a party.”
I remember one tour specifically, we went down and performed at a school and opened up for Luke. It was, like, terrible. People were throwing stuff at us because we were out of our element. You know, Luke came on stage with naked girls and bass music, and we’re up there just hippity hopping. - No I.D.
No I.D.: “I did that record at the same time I did ‘In My Own World,’ and my goal was to give him ‘Maintaining’ and to keep ‘In My Own World’ for myself. But he just went ahead and took them both [Laughs.].
“Illmatic came out when we were working on the album, and we heard that and we knew we had to come with it. We wanted the respect. We were traveling around, and I remember one tour specifically, we went down and performed at a school and opened up for Luke. It was, like, terrible. People were throwing stuff at us because we were out of our element. You know, Luke came on stage with naked girls and bass music, and we’re up there just hippity hopping.
“So that tour ended in Jersey, and we opened up for KRS-One—and that was even tougher. That was real tough on us. I remember samplers being tossed back on stage at us, and it was a real thing like, ‘We’ve gotta earn respect, we’ve gotta be respected. We can’t keep going around like this.’
I remember Twilight Tone kinda dissed me towards the end of the Can I Borrow A Dollar? album in front of everybody and was like, ‘You don’t know samples,’ and that sent me on a mission. That made me want to prove to everyone in the crew—and myself—that I was good. - No I.D.
“And it wasn’t even just that—there were times when we’d be competing against each other. I remember when Tone told me I was wack. Me and Tone knew each other from high school and we used to do house music together. We were both DJs, but he became the DJ of me and Common’s rap group, CDR (Corey, Dion & Rashid). I ended up leaving the group thinking it wasn’t going anywhere, and they kept working on music.
“So when I eventually came back around, I was low man on the totem pole. [Tone] was really doing all of Common’s music and I was just trying to be down with the situation. I was viewed as the little guy, and in time me and Common emerged. Then me and Tone formed a production group called 2 pc. DRK—named after Harold’s Chicken. But there was always a little tension between us. It was always very competitive.
“I remember Twilight Tone kinda dissed me towards the end of the Can I Borrow A Dollar? album in front of everybody and was like, ‘You don’t know samples,’ and that sent me on a mission. That made me want to prove to everyone in the crew—and myself—that I was good. So me and Tone were real competitive at this point."
Sum Shit I Wrote
“Sum Shit I Wrote”
Produced by: Ynot
Common:“I love that beat and that bass line. I wanted that beat but Tone wanted to keep it for his group. He was making really dope beats for his group but when he was able to make that beat for me, I was like, ‘Man this is some shit right here!’ I just went in on some MC’ing. That was one of my favorite MC’ing songs on there.
I think Common was taking shots at me on this record. [Laughs.] I think he tried to use my style against me on here. I hate to sound like Kool Keith or somebody, but I think he was going at me on this one. - The Twilite Tone
“I felt like I was being free, being clever, MC’ing with some power, and in the same token having a sense of humor. That’s a rap I can kick somewhere and people will be like, ‘Oh shit!’ It’s a ‘one in the chamber’ rap. That’s what I really loved about that. ‘Sum Shit I Wrote’ was just letting you know that this is some shit right here—so check it out.”
The Twilite Tone: “I think Common was taking shots at me on this record. [Laughs.] I think he tried to use my style against me on here. I hate to sound like Kool Keith or somebody, but I think he was going at me on this one.
That whole extended metaphor thing was my shit. To keep it 100, me and Rashid had a falling-out at this time. Between him using my style and me saying he wasn’t being original, I kinda drifted off.
“I was then working on my shit. He was already signed to a label and I hadn't, so if I had been, I would’ve had more ammunition. But we had a little silent tiff at that time. The Late Show was also splitting up at the time and one of the guys went to hang out with Rashid and gave him one of my secret weapons, which was the extended metaphor. I think he thought if he hung out with Rashid he would get on, but it didn’t work out in his favor."
“Pop’s Rap” f/ Lonnie “Pops” Lynn
Produced by: No I.D.
Common: “I didn’t grow up with him, but my father used to always talk to me about certain things and his talks were wise. He had street wisdom, cool shit to say, and smart stuff. It just resonated with me.
“One day he came to the studio. We was drinking beers and eating pizza and I was like, ‘Dad, go in the booth and say something.’ My old man went in there, sat down on that stool, did that one take, and now we have ‘Pop’s Rap’ on every album besides Universal Mind Control.
One day he came to the studio. We was drinking beers and eating pizza and I was like, ‘Dad, go in the booth and say something.’ My old man went in there, sat down on that stool, did that one take, and now we have ‘Pop’s Rap’ on every album besides Universal Mind Control. - Common
“He ain’t know what to say but he just went in there because he can speak. He found his way and that’s the beginning of him finding his way as a writer and artist. He ain’t even know that he would become a writer, but just me saying, ‘Dad go in there and say something on the mic.’
“That’s the lovely thing about recording that album, it was a lot of moments that just happened like the answering machine message [on ‘Another Wasted Nite With...’], what you get on ‘Orange Pineapple Juice,’ and what my father did. It was just moments of being there. It was just those spontaneous things.”
Lonnie “Pops” Lynn: “I was in Chicago and I was in the studio with Common and he was like, ‘Man, you mean to tell me you can’t step to the mic and spit? Ain’t you my father, man?’ Then I said ‘I ain’t got no fear!’ At that very moment, the perspiration was running up my calves just thinking about it. It started off as a fun thing but then I started feeling challenged.
“It started off as a joke. They were making a ham out of me and I took the bait! [Laughs.] [My mindset going into the booth] was like, ‘Damn! How’d I get in a jam like this?’ [Laughs.] I guess you youngins call it freestyling. I tried to identify my relationship with Chicago. We just did some things off the top of my head, that’s all.
“But I did notice his peers, I watched their reaction and I saw sincerity in the comments they made. Who would think that in 1994 a rapper would put his father on a song? Everybody was acting hard and carrying on, but he called me and was like, ‘Yo Dad I’m putting this on the album. This is good!’
I said ‘I ain’t got no fear!’ At that very moment, the perspiration was running up my calves just thinking about it. It started off as a fun thing but then I started feeling challenged. - Lonnie "Pops" Lynn
“From that, I learned that if you got the right intentions, you can’t make a mistake. Maybe something won’t rhyme, but if you’re speaking from your heart and it’s what you believe, how are you gonna make a mistake?
No I.D.: “That was the beginning of the series of letting his father be a part of the albums. Common didn’t grow up with his Father like that, so it was always a fun thing to add on to give it its own signature. At that time it wasn’t planned to be a repeated thing, but it gave an extra piece of flavor to the album.
“We didn’t intend for any of this stuff on the album to be what it is today. In my eyes, we were just trying to prove our worth in an industry that didn’t even acknowledge Chicago besides Twista. We were all just fighting for our lives. [Laughs.]
“Twista also had an album called Resurrection that came out at almost the exact same time as Common’s Ressurection [Ed. note: Twista’s Resurrection came out one week before Common’s]. And with me and [Twista’s producer] Legendary Traxster being friends now, we laugh about the fact that we also had a hidden competition. It was just in our Chicago blood to be so competitive with each other.
We didn’t intend for any of this stuff on the album to be what it is today. In my eyes, we were just trying to prove our worth in an industry that didn’t even acknowledge Chicago besides Twista. We were all just fighting for our lives. - No I.D.
“Me and Traxster would run into each other outside of the city and be like ‘What’s up man, why we not cool, why we not working together?’ So it was more like Twista was the Westside dude, and we were the Southside guys just competing for our lives.
“Blowing up wasn’t really the concept back then, it was just proving that we were good. We’d see certain records that were selling that we knew weren’t competitively good on a hip-hop level. So we saw that people could blow up without being good.
In our minds it was just about proving that we were dope. It wasn’t the money, it was being dope and having that respect. EPMD had a record called ‘Crossover’ and we really believed that—crossing over was a sucker move. Selling records and not being dope was a sucker move.
“Even today I look at music and think ‘Man, a lot of these people suck.’ Why? Because they sell out, and what I mean by that is that they’ll do anything to sell records, that’s what selling out means. It’s selling out the art to make some money. And that’s the thing today. A lot of people are selling records and they’re just wack. Resurrection didn’t sell a lot of records, but people knew we were dope.
“That was the only thing we cared about. My whole career over the span of 20 years has been based on ‘Am I dope?’ I’ve never cared about anything else. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go during this ride. A lot of people who sold way more records than we sold, but they’re not here.
If you’re not dope, you’re not going to survive that long in this business. That’s what Resurrection taught me: Be good in the purist sense and don’t worry about the results. Just be dope and everything will fall into place.”
The Twilite Tone: “I never personally met Rashid’s father, but I loved his voice. Especially on “It’s Your World.” I loved the words that he articulated.
With [that album], some of that was the beginning of me being honest with myself, examining myself, and in the same token just living. It’s like living but then you look in the mirror and be like, ‘Okay, this is where I am right now. This is who I am.’ Then you go out and live and come back like, ‘Alright, this is me,’ but you feel good about who you are. - Common
“Resurrection for me represents cats growing, and breaking through to another level. For me, it was just about exposing people to what we did. It was a testimony of what I did. Don’t think that we were late. Don’t think we needed a New York person to get us up to date. I didn’t go away to an East Coast school and come back to Chicago like, 'This is what’s up.’ Nah man, my cats was on it. Dem Dare, Twilite, Ynot, we were on it. We were really scientists. We was really into it.
“We didn’t have to get signed up by anyone from the East Coast, we signed up ourselves because we had nothing. We had to create it in the first place. We weren’t some country dudes like, ‘Thank you so much for putting us on.’ Like these dudes were teaching us how to read or something. Nah, dude we were reading. Not only were we reading, but we were reading the right shit.”
Derek Dudley: “That was always an essential and monumental piece to any Common album. It was always very important to have him on the album, and keep up that tradition. It was always great to have Pops bless us with his words of wisdom.
“But one thing I wasn’t a fan of, was the record cover. [Laughs.] I was never a huge fan of that. That was the only thing I never liked about that album. It [the cover] was based off some old jazz record. I think Common came up with that. It was too eclectic. It didn’t really complement him well.
"I’m always thinking from a marketing and business standpoint, and you couldn’t see his face. How could anyone have known who he was? But hey, what are you going to do? I always offered my input, but sometimes Common wanted certain things. Sometimes it went my way, other times it didn’t. With any relationship it’s a give and take.
Common: “I wanted to get that honesty that my dad displays. I still work to be as honest as possible. With [that album], some of that was the beginning of me being honest with myself, examining myself, and in the same token just living. It’s like living but then you look in the mirror and be like, ‘Okay, this is where I am right now. This is who I am.’ Then you go out and live and come back like, ‘Alright, this is me,’ but you feel good about who you are.”