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After firmly establishing himself as the thinking man's rap poet thanks to his literate and politically minded hip-hop, Common — a.k.a. Common Sense — moved from underground hero to commercial breakthrough with 2000's Like Water for Chocolate, even scoring a Grammy for the single "The Light." Though success was sweet, when it came time to follow up his biggest album, Common took a left turn on 2002's Electric Circus, an ambitious, guest-packed, sonically dense collage that was just a little too un-Common for many of his fans. But now he's back — and back to his roots — with Be. It's an album whose creation was so relaxed and easy, he told MTV News' Joseph Patel, that he simply cut any song that wasn't coming together as easily as a snap of the fingers.

MTV: How did you get the idea to have Kanye and Jay Dee produce the album almost exclusively?

Common: Kanye started the album off and then he just continued to want to work. Basically, I got my first song from Kanye just walking into the studio session. He was producing for somebody else and he was like, "This beat's good. You like this?" And I was like, "Yeah, I like this." And I just took it and wrote a song to it.

MTV: What song was that?


Common: "The Food." He was just like calling me. "Yo, I'm coming to the studio, I'm making some stuff. Cooking up some stuff." ... Kanye and Jay Dee, they are two of the most creative, two of the dopest producers. And I have bonds with them brothers. Those dudes is good dudes. They've been working with me when they don't have money from my label. So it's a natural relationship regardless, and I knew that was the direction that I wanted my album to go in, some raw hip-hop.

MTV: The new record is sort of a back-to-basics album. What was the motivation for that?

Common: A lot of different things: Some personal journeys for me that I went through that made me feel like I gotta get grounded, get to the root of who I am again. Also, just going so far out on my last album, it's like a circle. I feel like my last album was on the farthest point of the circle, and now I'm back at the root again. ... I did Electric Circus and I feel like I got that out of me. So I can do what I'm feeling right now, and I'm glad to say that it's raw hip-hop, because I feel like that's what people seem like they would want from me and expect from me. But every time I can't do exactly what people expect, because I have to do what comes naturally for me as an artist.

MTV: So it doesn't bother you when people say, "He's back"?

Common: Well, you know, I understand. 'Cause when people get to know you in a certain way, they want you in that way, and I don't apologize for my evolution, 'cause from my first album, [1992's] Can I Borrow a Dollar?, to this album it's been all about evolution and all about me expressing the way I am at the time. So Electric Circus is not anything that I'm apologizing for, 'cause it's part of the evolution. I understand why people say I'm back, because I did get back to the root of what I started at, which is pure hip-hop, raw hip-hop.

MTV: As the hip-hop scene evolves, it seems like the barriers are breaking down between the so-called conscious rappers and the more commercial rappers. How do you feel about that?

Common: I think that's a dope thing, because I don't think hip-hop was meant to be divided. I think hip-hop was an expression of artists from the ghetto [and] artists from the suburbs. It started in the ghetto, but I think this culture was meant to bring together people and to allow everyone to express themselves. I mean, there's people that grow up in the projects who are artists. They might dress different; they might listen to Pink Floyd. So the fact that hip-hop has that many colors to it and that many different expressions, I think it's good that we don't create a line between us to be like, "OK, because I made Electric Circus, I don't like Jay-Z." This is about being human and being a person and being an artist. I might wanna express some stuff, talking about how females react to me, and it just might sound like some gutter stuff, but that's how I feel that day. And Jay-Z may express a song about God coming and telling him something important. What I'm trying to say is we're all people and we all express ourselves in different ways, but just because Jay-Z might rap about getting money doesn't mean he ain't conscious. And just because I rap about things like abortion, and rap about God, don't mean that I ain't aware of the streets.

MTV: And just because you're a conscious rapper doesn't mean you can't address your sexual fantasies. How did you end up writing "Go!"?

 Common describes how a combination of "Ray," John Mayer and Kanye West helped create the recipe for "Go"

Common: I went to the movies — it was Kanye, myself and John Mayer, and we went to see "Ray." We were watching it, and I was just inspired by the movie, just as a musician and as an artist, I felt inspired. We left there and went straight to the studio. Kanye started cooking up this beat and started doing this chant, like, "Go, go, go," and while we were sitting there thinking what to write, John Mayer said, "You could write about your fantasy." And I was like, "Am I going to let John Mayer come up with the concept for this joint? This is hip-hop." But John Mayer is a very talented brother and you don't know where your blessings are going to come from. He was singing, and we made him a sample on it, going 'Go.' So it all came together and now we have the song 'Go!,' which is about going to my fantasy."

MTV: What fantasies did you choose to use?

Common: My fantasy was about being with a girl I'd been with before and would have good sex with. Then another fantasy was another woman I was digging that was open and wanted to be with another girl and me too. So that's a good fantasy. ... People only think Common is just about this conscious thing. Talking about my fantasies is a good way to express myself because I am a balanced person. I like sex, I just try to be in control with it. Conscious cats like sex too.

MTV: What can you tell us about the other tracks on the record?

Common: "The Food" ... a lot of people got it from the Dave Chappelle show, which is cool. I call it "The Food" because it's about doing what you got to do to eat, you know? ... [On] this song called "Faithful," I talk about a lot of different things. I talk about if God was a female, and the second verse deals with a person ... it's all about faith. I was saying if you knew if God was a female, would we be faithful to her? Would we still be on the same things that we are on right now? You know, like the things that draw us away from being close to God? And the second verse deals with a woman who lost her child to the streets and how she still kept her faith. Then the third verse is more talking about a man trying to be faithful in a relationship. That's one of the exciting joints on there to me. ... There's one song called "Chi-City" where I'm just slappin' on that as far as rappin'. Just rappin'. And the beat feel like some Pete Rock a little bit, where it's just some horns goin', soulful horns.

MTV: Why'd you name the new album Be?

Common: Be, for me, is like a special moment, like a moment in hip-hop. I believe that we accomplished something greater than [what we expected] when we first started. I titled it Be because Be means to do without trying hard — just be natural, be who you are in the present moment, and this album for me was like not even trying to innovate. I wasn't trying to not do what I did before, I just created it and whatever felt good, that's what I used, that's what I kept on the record. ... Each piece of music is about being in the present moment and not trying to worry about the future, like, "Damn, how is this going to sound?" I can't really make music like that, so that's what Be comes from. Also not dwelling on the past, like, "What have I done before? Does this sound like something I did before?" This album I'm just "Yo, whatever comes naturally, I'm just doing it." That's what Be is really about, being present.

MTV: What other things are you up to these days?

Common: I'm writing some children's books. ... They're self-published, and they'll be coming out soon, and I'm working on some acting. I'm taking classes more or less right now, and just involving myself and doing readings for films and stuff like that — and plays too, but right now I'm just working on my acting abilities. You'll see me in the movies soon.

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