COMMON with Q-TIP at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Monday (September 24). $39.50. 416-870-8000. www.ramosent.com. Rating: NNNNN
Common is right in the middle of creating.
That's what the L.A. Geffen label rep says before connecting us. Keep the interview short - he's working on music.
"Actually, I'm just riding in my truck," Common says over his cell from his hometown, Chicago. "That's how I create, I just ride and listen to music. But it's no problem, I feel the vibe."
Specifically, he was cruising to an instrumental by his drummer, Kareem Riggins, "an amazing producer." That's high praise from the famously discerning rapper, who gets most of his songs tailor-made by Kanye West.
On his new album, Finding Forever, Common calls West "the new Preemo," referring (a bit backhandedly) to beatcrafting icon DJ Premier.
As a main producer on Finding, and Be before it, West has blessed his fellow Chi-towner with a lush sonic outfit for those earnest flows that in the last 15 years have sold everything from black power to vegetarianism to Gap cargo pants.
"He's an incredible producer, in that he will help you with the choruses, with the hooks. And he critiques the raps. That's a brilliant aspect of Kanye as a producer. That's how he and I work," Common says.
"But I think I challenge him, because I don't accept every beat. He might make five beats. I might like one of 'em. And I'll take that one but I might not like it after two weeks."
On the song Everything I Am (featuring "the old Preemo") from Kanye's new album, Graduation, he raps, "Common passed on this beat. I made it to a jam."
As the one with first pick of West's instrumentals, the Lily Allen collaborator has absolutely no regrets about passing on gems.
"Nah, I feel like each song that's meant for me, I get," he says. "I'm a believer in divine order. And Kanye made that song better than I would have. You gotta know that sometimes some people will make the song more incredible than you."
Like those beats, he also doesn't wish he could take back a line from Start The Show, the first song on Finding Forever, which seems conspicuously aimed at 50 Cent and his G-Unit (Gorilla Unit) crew: "With 12 monkeys onstage, it's hard to see who's a gorilla / You was better as a drug dealer."
The rapper, who famously feuded with Ice Cube in 1994, explains, "You see a lot of artists onstage in hiphop and they always got all their homeys on the mic with them. You can't hear what they're sayin'. So I'm not talking about anyone specifically, but whoever fits in that category is definitely gonna feel the blow.
"People ask me, 'Are you talking about this person, that person? I just said 'monkey' cuz it's a derogatory word - you're a monkey out there."
But if the dart was intended for Curtis, maybe it's motivated by a slight case of megastar envy.
Common, who'll appear alongside Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the Ridley Scott Oscar-baiter American Gangster this fall, says the most important thing West inspired in him was the courage to start really aiming for the top.
"I think [before], when I would create a lot I'd be scared to be like, 'Man, I want to be number one.'
"But, man, I want to be number one! That's how I felt the whole time."