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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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 "This is the coolest thing on earth," Lupe says

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Com next stops between two Chi-Town staples he's used as locations in videos — for "Resurrection" and "I Used to Love H.E.R.," respectively: Harold's Chicken Shack ("Known for their special sauce!") and Kenwood Liquors ("We come here sometimes after church, sometimes on a Saturday night. You always see cats you knew at the liquor store, hanging out, finding out where the party is going to be"). Standing between two places that hold a lot of meaning for him, Common pauses to remember the days when he was Lonnie Rashid Lynn, a youth who was trying to stay righteous but had one foot on the dangerous side of the fence.

  "Six-O-six fo-fo since nine-fo ..." Since 1994, the world has known Chicago native Shawntee Harris as Da Brat, and although she relocated to Atlanta to work with Jermaine Dupri, she always yells out her hometown. Here she tells us what blows her skirt up about the Windy City.

  Favorite place: "My block in K-Town: Adams and Kilpatrick. That's where it all goes down, from da womb to da tomb! The most peaceful place in Chicago to relax is my grandmother's house because there is nothing like being with my family."
  Favorite place to eat: "Uncle Remus Chicken & BBQ, because the sauce is BANANAS! I started going there in high school and have been hooked ever since."
  Favorite things about Chicago: "The seasons. A lot of other cities don't have summer, winter, fall and spring ... The incredible skyline, because of the Sears Tower, the John Hancock building ... It's the best city in the world!"
  Favorite Chicagoans: "Michael Jordan: When he was with the Bulls, I used to go to all the games to watch 'is royal airness' hang and glide through the air. ... Oprah Winfrey: In 1992, Oprah's show was where I met Jermaine Dupri for the first time. Oprah is THE SH--! ... R. Kelly: Robert and I were inseparable. When I was in high school, he used to tell everyone I was his niece. Rob produced my first two demos, and he taught me how to write in my head, without pen and paper. He's my FAVORITE."
"I was rolling around here with my guys, who at the time were gangbanging, and of course I was getting into some of the same things they were doing," he says. "I would kick it, get bubbly and get drunk. Go out and fight sometimes. It was kind of a release for us.

"I was around the street for a minute — that's my life in Chicago," Com continues. "But I am not one of those cats that be sitting up and saying, 'Yeah, I was shooting cats.' I was just around real n---as, point blank. Sometimes certain people got killed. Like, not from me, but for the certain situation we'd be in. I feel like what I went through with my teenage years was a natural progression for somebody that is growing up in Chicago."

But while Com spent much of his childhood in the church and on the streets, his coming of age was also shaped by athletics — specifically the Chicago Bulls. Com loved sports growing up and his father, Lonnie Lynn, played in the American Basketball Association (which merged with the NBA in 1976) in the 1969-70 season. Young Common harbored hoop dreams of his own and even touched the big time at one point.

"I was a ball boy for the Bulls," he recalls with a smile, revealing that he was closer to one of the game's biggest-ever stars — and one of Chicago's most celebrated heroes — than most people could dream of being. "I was there when Mike came. It was something to see Michael Jordan come into the league in his rookie year. I got to meet [everyone] from Dr. J [Julius Erving] to Isaiah [Thomas], to Larry Bird, to Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], and they would be giving me their gym shoes."

Entrepreneurial Com quickly turned his ball-boy job into a small industry. "I would be selling their gym shoes," he says. "My father got a pair of Michael Jordan's originals — like, the first pair he got [with Nike], my old man still has them. I would be selling cats' gym shoes for real. I would sell to my teachers at school. That was my little hustle."

All the talk of basketball has led Common to one of the city's many public courts, at Jesse Owens Park in the South Side neighborhood. Strolling onto the empty court, he takes time out from playing tour guide to shoot some baskets.

So at this point in his life, is Common making better music than jump shots? "I am a better rapper," he says as, almost on cue, the brick he's thrown misses the net-less basket. After a few "clangs," his shooting starts to warm up.

"My game isn't as raw as it used to be, but I still got it," he says. "It's in my blood. It never leaves, ya dig?"

This tour of Chicago wouldn't be complete without a stop at Common's mother's house, which is located on a quiet, middle-class block just minutes away from the court. Inside, the inviting smell of cooking catfish wafts through the air as Common's 7-year-old daughter, Omoye Assata Lynn, zooms around. A trophy case in the living room holds some of the MC's prizes, including the Grammy he and Badu won for "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)."

Immediately after meeting his mom, the source of Common's kindness and graciousness becomes clear. It's understandable why he has nothing but praise for the woman who steered him to church every Sunday. "This is the key to my life, my mom [Mahalia Ann Hines]. Her friends call her Ann. This is the person who gave me everything; she spoiled me. Gave me love and wisdom and provided me with a good stepdad. Made sure I went to school and I had good things in life. When I was young, she took me to different places. My mom worked to make sure we had a nice place. She was a teacher when I was growing up and then she was a principal — now she is helping out other principals."

Common's mom has equally glowing things to say about her son. "I always tell him I would like him even if he wasn't my son," she says with a gleam in her eye, while simultaneously keeping a close watch on the catfish in the frying pan. "You know, you can love your children, but you don't necessarily have to like them. Basically, he is my best friend."

# # #

Wasalu Muhammad Jaco doesn't get to spend too much time in his Chicago hometown.

  Chi-Town has a long history and culture of dancing that goes well beyond the 1986 Chicago Bears and the "Super Bowl Shuffle." R. Kelly introduced the world outside Chicago to steppin', the origins of which stretch back to the 1930s as a local variation on the jitterbug. While steppin' is still popular with the older, more suave, old-school rhythm & blues set, one of the subcultures proliferating today — primarily on Chicago's South Side — is footworkin'. It's a vigorous style of dance that developed in the mid-to-late 1980s on the West Side as a Windy City variation on breakdancing (from New York) and krumping (from Los Angeles). While furious, acrobatic lower-body movements give footworkin' its name, it's a full-bodied exercise that incorporates facial expressions and fluid hand movements.

During the early '90s, it became obvious that footworkin' needed a musical soundtrack that could keep up with its fast tempos in a way hip-hop increasingly could not. Delving into its house-music history — and borrowing from Detroit's techno sounds and Florida's booty-bass music — Chicago gave birth to "juke" music: a "ghetto-tech" sound that speeds by at a blazing clip. The dance and music have since become one synonymous culture in Chicago — jukin' — and DJs like Slugo and Chip hold it down for the South Side with mix-CDs, DVDs, club nights and block parties. It's a fusion of sights and sounds that "My Block" couldn't resist highlighting — watch it right here.
Blame it on his alter ego, Lupe Fiasco (the first part of his moniker comes from the "lu" in his real name, and "Fiasco" was inspired by a track called "Firm Fiasco" by supergroup the Firm). With a Grammy, a Reebok sneaker deal, critical acclaim for his debut LP Food & Liquor, Jay-Z as his co-executive producer and love from Internet geeks and underground rap fans, Lupe is one of the standouts for best new MC of 2006, proudly carrying on Chi-Town's lineage of keen-tongued rappers.

But the past several months — which have included shooting videos with Kanye, performing in front of thousands on tour and dealing with the strain of constantly promoting his music — are taking a toll. So the 23-year-old is taking it easy and relaxing in the Chi ... which for him, on this August weekend, includes studio time, a guest appearance at Lollapalooza and taking MTV News on a hometown tour.

Since his first single, "Kick, Push," celebrates one of his earliest hobbies, skateboarding, what better place to begin a tour than his old stomping grounds, Wilson Skatepark?

"Yeah, I get down," Fiasco says with a smile, taking a look at the group of young skater kids holding court in the park, who go by the name ASAP ("Always Skating, Always Pimping"). "You know, I'm not as good as some of these kids here, and it's really because I don't have enough time to skate — and it is too dangerous. I might slip and my tour dreams will be washed! But I get down a little bit. I make sure I don't come up here and embarrass myself."

The up-and-comer takes this opportunity to show off one of his war wounds. "This helmet right here saved me," he says, kissing the battered plastic in gratitude. Indicating a section of the park, he explains, "Coming down that little bank right there — the simplest thing in the world and I lost my balance, tipped over."

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Photo: MTV News

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