Common ‘Passed’ on Recording Kanye West’s ‘Heard ’em Say’

"He made that beat for me in the studio and he was like ‘You want this?’"

By Rahul Lal

One of the legends of hip-hop, Common, sat down with Elliott Wilson and Brian “B-Dot” Miller on Rap Radar to discuss among other things, his fellow Chicago artist Kanye West, who was largely influenced by Common early on at the beginning of his career, and who at one time signed Common to his G.O.O.D. Music label.

“The one thing that I look at in the lineage of Chicago is that there are so many really talented artists that come from there,” he explained. “We have an authentic sound. Lupe [Fiasco] doesn’t sound like Kanye. I don’t sound like Chance. Chance doesn’t sound like Lil’ Bibby. People find their individuality.”

Kanye and Common have been working together even before Kanye released his debut album, The College Dropout. But, as Common explained, he once turned down one of Kanye’s early tracks.

“One of the beats that I passed on that I regret is Heard ‘Em Say,” Common admitted. “He made that beat for me in the studio and he was like ‘You want this?’ He gave me about 30 seconds to think… I said ‘It’s cool.’ He’s like ‘Man, I’m taking this and I’m going to rap.’ He wrote the song in about 15 minutes… that song was meant for him. For me, to see him create that beat and write the whole song in 15 minutes was magic; it was for him.”

Common signed with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music label in 2004 just after the release of The College Dropout.

“There’s no need for ego when you’re connecting with somebody and y’all lift each other up,” he responded when asked about the signing. “He was able to lift me up as a producer and he was one of the best producers I ever worked with because he is able to not only make super dope beats but says ‘Look, let’s do the hook like this or you can rewrite that rap.’ Him, as a producer, was bringing something special to the table and I know I was bringing something special to the table so why not join forces and be able to be under his label. All it did was benefit the both of us.”

“He had a soul sound that I really loved, like the pianos and instruments, but he would just chop them up and it was just hip-hop the way that I enjoy and I love to write and I write my best to so it felt like home,” Common explained. “Kanye would come to my basement, him and his guys, and… they’d just want to battle me and I was like ‘Alright.’ I enjoyed it. And even at that point, Kanye was actually a really good freestyler too.”

Common is releasing a new album on November 4 titled Black America, which is, of course, inspired by the current issues African-Americans are facing in this country.

Black America Again, for me, is really about seeing so many things going on but it’s really about us writing a new story,” he said. “I thought about Black America Again because I was looking at the repetition of things that happened to black people in our country over and over. Just the lack of value of our life, of our lives.”

He went on to explain that much of the inspiration came from likening the murders of individuals such as Eric Garner to police brutality cases like the infamous Rodney King beatdown. He had a moment while watching the movie Straight Outta Compton where he realized how much history seems to repeat itself and has over the course of decades and centuries.

“It’s just a cycle,” he added. “It was going on in the 90s, it was going on in the 60s, it was going on when we first got here through slavery. That’s what Black America Again is saying, it’s just the cycle but I’m also saying that we’re going to write a new story now.”

Common was able to reach new levels of inspiration to create another great album with guests including Stevie Wonder, Marsha Ambrosius, BJ The Chicago Kid and Syd Tha Kyd. To hear more about the album, Common’s opinions on race in America today and much, much more make sure to listen to the latest episode of Rap Radar on CBS Radio’s podcast network.


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