Common (originally Common Sense) was a
highly influential figure in rap's underground during the '90s, keeping the
sophisticated lyrical technique and flowing syncopations of jazz-rap alive
in an era when commercial gangsta rap was threatening to obliterate
everything in its path. His literate, intelligent, nimbly performed rhymes
and political consciousness certainly didn't fit the fashions of the moment,
but he was able to win a devoted cult audience. By the late '90s, a
substantial underground movement had set about reviving the bohemian
sensibility of alternative rap, and Common finally started to receive wider
recognition as a creative force. Not only were his albums praised by
critics, but he was able to sign with a major label that guaranteed him more
exposure than ever before.
Common was born Lonnie Rashied Lynn on the South Side of Chicago, an area
not exactly noted for its fertile hip-hop scene. Nonetheless, he honed his
skills to the point where -- performing as Common Sense -- he was able to
catch his first break, winning The Source magazine's Unsigned Hype contest.
He debuted in 1992 with the single "Take It EZ," which appeared on his
Combat-released debut album, Can I Borrow a Dollar?; further singles
"Breaker 1/9" and "Soul by the Pound" helped establish his reputation in the
hip-hop underground, although some critics complained about the record's
occasional misogynistic undertones. Common Sense subsequently wound up on
Ruthless Records for his 1994 follow-up, Resurrection, which crystallized
his reputation as one of the underground's best (and wordiest) lyricists.
The track "I Used to Love H.E.R." attracted substantial notice for its
clever allegory about rap's descent into commercially exploitative
sex-and-violence subject matter, and even provoked a short-lived feud with
Ice Cube. Subsequently, Common Sense was sued by a ska band of the same
name, and was forced to shorten his own moniker to Common; he also relocated
from Chicago to Brooklyn.