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 Don't question Common's stamina! ...



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 "I was around the street for a minute — that's my life in Chicago," Common says ...



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— by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway and Joseph Patel

R. Kelly and Kanye West may be the biggest hip-hop stars from Chicago, but the city's current musical scene goes much deeper.

Ludacris' protégé Shawnna is making a bid to become the most skilled female MC in the game. Newcomer Rhymefest is so tight with his raps that he helped Kanye get a Grammy by co-writing "Jesus Walks" and defeated Eminem in battle back in the day. Of course, the veteran Twista has been consistently dope for years — just ask his collaborators like Kanye, Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z and Diddy, who've called upon him to add onto their hits.

For this edition of "My Block," two of Chi-Town's finest MCs took MTV News on a tour of their city and their lives. Common explores his spiritual side, remembers his days of hanging with hoodlums and Michael Jordan, and shares his deep love and respect for his mom. Meanwhile, Lupe Fiasco shows us what it means to skate or die, tells us about his plans to change the 'hood, and also shares his deep love and respect for his mom. It all adds up to a unique but characteristic picture of life in the Windy City.

# # #

Don't question Common's stamina. Last night he was onstage sweating a puddle, jumping, yelling and rapping in front of 70,000 people. Later on, he and his good friend Kanye West partied until 3 in the morning — accompanied by their mothers. This morning he was up at 6, getting ready for an 8 a.m. church service.

The church — which he refers to as his "foundation" — is the first stop Common selects on a tour of hometown spots that have molded him into the man he is today.

"Right now, we at Trinity," Com says, standing in front of the huge, stately cathedral as churchgoers scurry across the sidewalk, trying not to be late. The church used to be housed in a smaller building down the block, but as the congregation grew over the years, so did the need for space, so Trinity moved to this sprawling new location in the city's South Side. Between services, the MC is greeted by fellow churchgoers who are pleased but not surprised that he's there. Common's been going to Trinity since he was a child.

"Every time I come home, this is where I come on Sunday," he says. "I have been raised in church. It was like, even if I went out and kicked it with my homies on Saturday night, I would still get up and go to church. Throughout my career, throughout my life, this has been what kept me grounded."

Being a famous member of the congregation comes with some responsibility. Every now and then, Reverend Rodney will put Com on the spot and encourage him to get up and freestyle at the altar — not a common sight at your average church.

"You can't curse — you got to be rapping about something that is talking about God," Common explains. "Man, the first time I freestyled in church, I was like, 'Oh man, what am I going to do?' They were playing a fast beat and I just started catching it. I caught the spirit, man. My mother and my aunt were with me and they were in amazement, like, 'Damn, you can freestyle like that in church?'

"It actually opened me up a lot, because that crowd, they weren't aware of [my career] too much," he continues. "They kind of gained a new respect for me and for hip-hop. The music I do, it's very spiritual and it's very God-based. I ain't afraid to do that in hip-hop. That's why I come here. Some sermons from this reverend have inspired some of my rhymes."

After church, Common heads to the South Side neighborhood in which he spent most of his formative years, Avalon Park.

"This is 87th Street," he says, standing on a street corner while a couple of ladies passing by pull out their camera phones. One woman keeps yelling from an SUV, "Where's Erykah Badu?" referring to Common's long-ago girlfriend. "Kicking at the crib," he yells back with a smile. "This is where I grew up — my whole life is about eight blocks around here. I started out at 3 years old at 88th and Dorchester, and then me and my mom moved over to 89th and Bennett, which is about six blocks away from there. Then we stayed over there on Constance.

"This is my life right here," he proclaims, "because this is really like a black middle-class neighborhood, but you got the elements that are ghetto here, like the 'hood — that's just the culture in Chicago. You got gangbanging in the middle-class areas and drug-dealing and all that. It's just like the ghetto in a way, but there are nice cribs sometimes. The people got money, but their children still try to get caught up in the hustle, I guess."


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Photo: MTV News

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