With an impressive catalog of rap classics, a string of movies, charity foundations and much more, Common is a master of many trades. The Chicago native is currently busy in the recording studio putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming new album, The Dreamer, The Believer. Music photographer Steven Taylor has captured essential moments of the recording process in order to highlight the spirit of Common’s creativity prevailing in work sessions like these. We sat down with Common to talk about his personal relationship with creativity, the aspects of inviting a photographer behind the scenes while work is still in progress, and his numerous other projects. Los Angeles-based music photographer Steven Taylor had the honor to exclusively document the recording process.
Thanks for taking some time. Could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming new album and its production?
The album is called, The Dreamer, The Believer, produced by No I.D. He did all the tracks. I’m looking at doing something with Kanye West at some point for the album, but right now No I.D. has done the whole thing, and it’s pretty much close to done.
Where did you record it?
I recorded the whole album at No I.D.’s studio in LA. Man, that was the place! Just being able to have much access to the studio helped our process so much.
What would you say turns you on creatively and spiritually?
[Laughs] What turns me on creatively is being able to experience new things as a creator, like being able to let my imagination go different places as a writer; and creatively as an actor being able to do things that I’ve never done before and go to places that I’ve never been, and learn new things too as I’m going as an actor. I get inspired by other people’s creativity too. That’s a motivating factor for me. It could be me seeing somebody’s art, hearing a song, or being in a scene with somebody and I get inspired. Those are the things that motivate my creativity.
Spiritually I’m just motivated by God. I’m a true believer in God the Most High, the Creator of the heavens and earth. I’m motivated by my faith in God and apply that – doing my best to it.
When you’re working, how does having a photographer around affect the mood or the vibe of the situation? Is it positive or negative, or sometimes both? What’s your take on it?
I think having a photographer around, you feel first and foremost you feel like you’re being able to have that moment captured. You feel like it’s being captured in a…especially if you have a great photographer around like Steven Taylor. So you know it’s one of those times where something is going on, and you’ll be able to look back on these pictures and know they’re timeless. When you’re in a creative session, and someone else is using their creativity and capturing it, it’s like creative combustion! Everybody is delivering their creativity and gifts. It’s cool to have a photographer around – of course sometimes when you’re in a really intense moment, you might see the photographer, and you’ll think about the photo being taken, instead of what you’re working at the moment. In all reality – because of my experiences…great photographers add on and are able to capture the great moments.
2011 seems like a busy year for you. Starting a new album, being busy with Common Ground. What keeps your projects and work ethic in tact?
I think my work ethic is in tact because I know I have dreams to elevate. I want to keep growing as a person and as a creator/artist. I know it’s a long way to go. I have room to grow as an MC. I have a long way to grow as an actor. There are other things creatively that get me going too. I feel like once you’re given an opportunity, you’ve gotta put that work in, and on the same token, appreciate that opportunity so that’s why I put the work in. I love what I do. Somebody told me a quote from Khalil Gibran who wrote The Prophet: “Work is love made visible.” So you know if you love what you’re doing. I wake up thinking about doing something artistic. Whether it’s acting or working on a song. These are the things that I love to do, so it makes me want to do it all the time. That’s what keeps my work ethic at that level.
What other things are you working on right now?
Along with just finishing up my album, The Dreamer, The Believer, I’m working on a new TV series for AMC called Hell on Wheels, which will be out in November. It’s about the building of the transcontinental railroad. It’s an incredible piece of art. I’m excited about it. I also have a book coming out in September. It’s a memoir. Obviously I have a lot of life to live, but this is part of my life, things that I have learned. I’m also working with my foundation, the Common Ground Foundation, just to keep encouraging the youth to be leaders.