Common talks his early days, J. Dilla and more during ‘Questlove Supreme’ podcast

KC Orcutt

 // Jan 26, 2018

The team at Pandora knew they were onto something when they brought on the luminary Questlove to host his own weekly podcast. With over 60 episodes down and counting since its 2016 launch, Questlove Supreme is truly as much of a gem as its legendary host is.

Alongside members of Team Supreme, Boss Bill, Laiya and Suga Steve, the expert conversationalists partnered with The Roots' four-day takeover of the Gramercy Theatre in New York City for a first-ever live taping of the podcast on Thursday (Jan. 25). With the 2018 Grammy Awards drawing near, The Roots have been performing each night in celebration, with the legendary Roxanne Shante helping kick off the annual jam sessions the evening prior.

Breakfast Club | Common

While past guests of the reputed podcast have included the likes of Solange, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, Chris Rock, Kevin Liles, Usher, Tom Silverman, DJ Premier, Prodigy and Spike Lee, among dozens of others, this week played host to Common, with his introduction, as the co-hosts playfully pointed out, taking up the first five minutes of the broadcast with relative ease.

Considering the veteran rapper, actor, film producer, activist and entrepreneur goes way back with Questlove, it was only fitting that the in-depth sitdown would kick off from the very beginning, unearthing all sorts of stories from the vault along the way.

The candid conversation touched on a variety of subjects, including Questlove's love of "overwearing" Yeezy's leading to some rumored drama with Kanye West, Common's brief stint as a straight-A college student, being a "working class MC," the making of his hit single "I Used to Love H.E.R.", how Minister Farrakhan stepped in to break up his vicious beef with Ice Cube back in the '90s, the Dilla beat Questlove had some issues with at the time and much, much more.

Take a look at some highlights from the exclusive live taping below, and keep an eye out for the official airing of the full episode on Pandora next week.

We Heard Your Cry. Every #Grammy season for years it’s: “Why Do You Guys Post Pics Of Events Us Common Folk Can’t Have Access To!!?” This changes NOW: @TheRoots are taking OVER @gramercytheatre for the next 4 days: on Wed afternoon: I’ll host Conversations On Creativity w the good folks of #92y. On Thur afternoon: the entire @QLS family will do its first #QuestloveSupreme on @pandora LIVE broadcast w a special guest & friend of mine (hint: we may talk about our DAY when we were making SENSE of all that ELECTRIC CHOCOLATE)! On Fri: @BlackThought takes over w an afternoon screening of #SchoolDaze & a conversation panel afterwards w special guests (hmmm) then on Saturday just added: my afternoon #BreaksForKids (1st one in Manhattan!) The Dance Party for the entire family. I play the throwback music, y’all fool your 3 year old into thinking that War’s #LowRider is a brand new jam! Ha ha. All RSVP INFO on the fliers. Hope to see you there!

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On knowing when he could put pen to paper:

Common: "I used to visit my cousin in Cincinnati every summer... We had these dudes that were a little bit older, they were like Cincinnati's Run-DMC and they was the Bron Hill Crew, that was the neighborhood my cousin stayed at, Bron Hill. They were our heroes. This is seventh grade. I remember sitting there and we were up late at night and I was like man, let's write some raps, talking to my cousin. I wrote my rap, he wrote his. That next day, when we started saying it, everybody was responding to my rap and I was like, 'Yo, this is a great feeling. This is incredible.' They knew my rap. Then I started writing for some of my friends and then it was like, oh man, I could really do this."

Bars from the first rap Common wrote in the seventh grade:

"Well let me tell you 'bout a trip a time ago / I was going there to run a cold-blooded show / When I was there I saw some people tryna shoot / They called themselves the Bron Hill Crew / Doctor Ice, Romeo and Master E / All of the Bron Hill Crew, rapping to a tee / I asked them, could they rock with me?/"

Common: "That's all I can remember."[Laughs]

On the evolution of his rap name:

Common: "One of my first names was the Black Poet Caden. Then I was in a group called C.D.R., which just stood for Cory, Dion and Rashid… Dion is now No I.D. I had some other name but I can't remember. They were whack.

I came up with Common Sense. I was going to school down in Florida and they used to call weed Cincy or whatever. My boy was sitting there smoking some weed one time and my mother used to always say, 'boy you better use common sense.' And for some reason, the two just connected. I always thought it was a name that was unique but still kind of every day. When the band actually sued me for my name, that's when I lost my hair. I was stressed out. [Laughs] I was gon' lose my hair anyways but the gist of it was, you can't be your name no more. You're like, man, I built this. It was right after Resurrection, my second album, I'm just getting to be known and somebody knows who I am and now y'all talking away the name Common Sense."

Questlove: All the greats go through it. Biggie Smalls couldn't be Biggie Smalls. We couldn't have been Square Roots.

Common: I don't miss Common Sense, though. I actually felt like it was all divine order. You want something so bad and you look back and things work out just right. Common kind of represents the everyday person that I believe I am.

Questlove on first learning of Common:

"Some people may not know what The Source is [audience audibly disagrees]. There's a section in the former bible of hip-hop, whatever that is, called 'Unsigned Hype.' That's how I knew of you because you were in the 'Unsigned Hype' back in 1991-'92."

On being featured on "Unsigned Hype":

Common: "When we [referring his team and him] got selected for 'Unsigned Hype, that was such a big moment for me. Being from Chicago and being at a Black college, everyone was like, woah, you might be able to do something with this emceeing thing. My mother, she barely knew I rapped, really. When I first got offered a deal… that's honestly how we first got signed. Relativity Records was doing an album with the 'Unsigned Hype' artists. They had Biggie, they had Mobb Deep. They had all of us doing an album. The project never went through so they ended up pulling it and instead saying, we're gonna sign you. We're thinking about signing you so we had a meeting and that's how I got signed, from that Source 'Unsigned Hype.'"

On a past run-in with the law while in college (where he had to later pick up trash from the highway for community service):

Common: "I feel like at the end of the day you learn and you grow. Ain't nobody tryna move like that now... I take responsibility for what I do and what I did, but it was like, that wasn't initially my idea. But OK, I'm driving. On some serious stuff, I've been going to visit prisons and talk to people inside who are incarcerated. I've met people that are doing life sentences for being in the car for something. It put a lot into perspective for me, like that could've been me.

I'm grateful that I went through those things. Obviously, I'm grateful that I came out of it on a positive, but one thing I always say, it don't matter how many things I did, my heart was always good. I never wanted to damage people. I just got caught up in stuff and did certain things."

On explaining to his mom that he was going to be a rapper instead of finish college:

Common: "Similar to a certain degree [in response to Questlove explaining his family didn't know about his music career until the Roots' second album came out], my mother didn't even know I was rapping. I told her, I got a contract, I want to leave school and I want to go pursue my rap career. She knew about it; maybe she saw something out there but she didn't think of it as a profession. She was like, man, you need to stay in school. I was like, look mom, this is my dream... She was like, OK, I'm going to give you a year and a half. And if it doesn't work, then you need to be back in school. She saw how hard I was pursuing my goals. At first it was just to make a record, you know how hard it was back then.

Questlove on Common's evolution as an artist:

"You're probably the most evolved human I know that's an artist. As an MC, you've stuck to hip-hop's rules of just writing the moment and being like, I'ma just suffer the consequences later. You've said some of the most wildest shit ever on wax. Offensive, not offensive…"

On the making of the autobiographical track "Retrospect for Life" with Lauryn Hill, one that Questlove points out has a conservative narrative despite Common being personally pro-choice:

Common: "When I wrote 'Retrospect for Life' which is about abortion, I was just writing from the perspective of what I was feeling as a human being. The fact of just being more responsible. Not just being out here raw. It's more like I'm playing a part in this, I shouldn't have to put people that I care about, being the woman, through this and at the end of the day, I shouldn't put an unborn child through it. I was just talking about all of the emotions.

I remember writing it because I used to go see a lot of poets. This writer named Gwendolyn Brooks… I went to an event that she had and all that sparked me to just write it. I wrote that more as poetry. I took that poem and made it into a song, and I had been talking to Lauryn about it while you all [The Roots] were on tour. I was talking to Lauryn about doing the song and she was on the move a lot. I finally came across that song with her about to have her child, and I was about to have a child, our babies were due on the same day, it was kind of like, this thing that was going on.

We went through with the song, [Questlove] had introduced us to James Poyser, and we had James come through. We had No I.D. do the drums and we were going through the process of the song evolving and Lauryn just started trying different ideas. I think she wanted to do it because she was supportive but at the same token, I think she felt the story was important. I'm super grateful that she wanted to direct the video and I do agree that one day, it'd all make sense. It was a foreshadowing of what the evolution would be of that sound. That was the first time I used a lot of instrumentation and trying out different things. It comes from when you start exploring and learning about new music."

On working with J. Dilla:

Common: "I first met him with Q-Tip. We went and did this VIBE showcase that Quincy Jones had. We left the conference and went to Q-Tip's house. At his house, Dilla was fingering through these records and he was sitting there. He was real quiet so I didn't know Dilla's Detroit hood side to a certain degree. Q-Tip started playing me all these beats that Dilla did and I was like, this dude is incredible.

So then I got a beat tape from him. That's when I was on the road with De La, and I said 'Jay Dee, can we lay some stuff?' He flew himself to Chicago and laid some beats for me... I never used the beats but I think it was '98, I went to Dilla's house with you all, with The Roots, when you wanted to do Illa-Fifth Dynamite in Detroit. We were all on the same label so when I linked up with Dilla at that point, it was like we gotta do some music. I would make those trips to Detroit and it was a combination of just me watching the greatest at work, going to the strip club and making beats. We'd go to Korean BBQ, play games. I'm not a strip club dude, not that I'm judging it, just wasn't my thing. That's part of the culture in Detroit. Just to watch him pull out records and just work, just changed my life. It was incredible. If I wasn't there, when he was just making beats, he'd send me a batch. I'd call his mother, Ma Dukes would be like 'okay, I'm sending it to your place.'

Then to watch him like start making songs with me, Jay Dee would do what he wanted. I wanted him to rhyme on a song 'Funky For You,' I wanted all of Slum Village to rhyme on that song on Like Water For Chocolate. He sat in the studio and he was like tryna come up with something. I don't think his heart was into rhyming on that one, but, so that night, I thought he was done. He came back the next morning and picked me up and said 'I think we should do this one' [and played something else.] My point is, he would do what he wanted to do. Somebody operating simply on a passion level, that was one of the dudes that I really felt like, if he ain't feeling you or feeling it, he ain't rocking with it. But he would put his heart and soul into that music."

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