Common & Rakim: Forces of Nature

B rother J of the X-Clan once rapped, “I’ll walk with the lions, stalk with the elephant / pivot like gorilla, pigs become irrelevant.” Fifteen years ago, Hip-Hop and nature seem to have existed on a much more parallel plane than today. However, gear peddler extraordinaire, Marc Ecko seeks to change that. For decades, Ecko […]

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rother J of the X-Clan once rapped, “I’ll walk with the lions, stalk with the elephant / pivot like gorilla, pigs become irrelevant.” Fifteen years ago, Hip-Hop and nature seem to have existed on a much more parallel plane than today. However, gear peddler extraordinaire, Marc Ecko seeks to change that. For decades, Ecko Unlimited has covered your favorite rapper in rhinos in their memorable ad campaigns. On Thursday, June 8, Hip-Hop is out to cover the rhinos in return.

Central Park’s annual summer concert will feature a new spin. Rakim, Common, and Lupe Fiasco intend to fill capacity where the money raised will go to saving the seriously endangered rhinoceroses of the world. In preparation for a show that already has so much significance to their careers, Rakim chimes in how he’ll move the crowd as Common revisits the zoo with a b-boy stance. Both icons, along with Lupe, are out to not only preserve nature, but to save the Hip-Hop that they have carried through the last 20 years. What cans expect from Rakim on this Central Park concert? I know a lot of fans in the vicinity had gotten a preliminary taste over the weekend at Summer Jam…

Rakim: That’s kinda like my arena there. I got to come out with Busta and say a lil’ verse, but I ain’t really get time to get loose or say nothin’, or talk to the crowd. But that’s not my time, that’s Busta’s thing, and I respected that. But he hollered at me to come out with him. At my show, I’m gonna do some classics, then hit ‘em with a lil’ somethin’ new – let ‘em know what’s poppin’ with Rakim. I got my man, Kid Capri DJing for me. We did a couple shows already together, and I like the way that we get down. Things pop off, and I always respected my man Capri. He really knows how to move the crowd. I just wanna do my thing, man. It’s Rakim time. I got a couple surprises for ‘em. I got some time though, so it should get right out there. I saw you perform in Philly, back in the day, and you were stage-diving like crazy. You actually stage-dove on me. It was crazy…

Rakim: I got little things I like to do. The crowd loves you with that s**t. They let you know that you can trust ‘em, and go out there and be with ‘em, and party with ‘em. I don’t do too much movin’ around out there, but I like to get right. Common, to start, how did you become involved in the Save the Rhinos part of the concert in Central Park?

Common: Well actually man…to be honest, I was just told that I was doing Central Park’s summer stage [event]. I recently found out that it was for “Save the Rhinos,” and I just became a part of it through Marc Ecko and Ecko Unlimited requestin’ me, really, to be honest. Fans might get the impression that you are from your music, but are you an animal lover?

Common: Umm…I have respect for animals – for all living things, I respect. I do have love for the animals. I have for respect for ‘em ‘cause they God’s creation. I personally don’t feel that we should abuse any animal. Like, I gotta say this: I was told about the show, and once I found out what it was for, I was feelin’ even better about doin’ it. Growing up in Chicago, did you get the opportunity to go to the zoo much and see wild animals?

Common: Aw, yeah! I definitely got to go to the zoo. How important do you think it is for kids growing up in urban environments to get the opportunity to experience something like that? I mean, ideally, they’d witness it in nature, but…

Common: I think it’s important that we use Hip-Hop to bring about that awareness. Inner-city kids, we don’t necessarily think about those things, ‘cause we do have a lot of our own situations that we deal with, but it is somethin’ to be considered and to be brought up, and hopefully – it’ll be effective. My awareness was raised because of the [Save the Rhinos] show, so I hope that others’ will too. That’s what we here for, as Hip-Hop artists and as people. To be sharing the stage with Rakim and Lupe Fiasco, one could say that it symbolizes “The Three Kings of Hip-Hop” – yesterday, today, and hopefully tomorrow. Do you see it as that?

Common: Yeah. I definitely feel like it’s symbolic. Rakim, as much as he is “yesterday,” he’s “tomorrow” too, in a way – because we continue to listen to his records for good. That’s the music that I strive to make. I make it today, but hopefully, it’ll carry into tomorrow. I hope it carries some of the spirit of yesterday [too]. Lupe, is obviously…definitely the future. He’s shootin’ towards making that creative music that’ll last forever too. I think it’s a dope ticket to have that, like you said, yesterday, today, and tomorrow – and for us to transcend that too. Your performance is one of the best in Hip-Hop history whether with a DJ, with a band, or assisting another artist. How does a Common set differ when you’re in Central Park, miles south of the birthplace of Hip-Hop?

Common: You feel the vibe of the birth of Hip-Hop. In New York, you always wanna [boost your] show to the highest level of performin’. Also, New York is the Hip-Hop mecca. So you can do other things ‘cause they’re aware of so much Hip-Hop. It’s the [origin], so you can do a lot of things, even if the crowd is younger, they still got the traditional roots wit’ ‘em. Records like “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and “Respiration” have taken on their own interpretation and sense of identity in New York, as opposed to how they may’ve been intended. What does that mean to you?

Common: I love when somebody can [write] something specific, but that resonates to people all around because it’s so honest and so real, any human can feel it. Like, I can tell you a story about my grandmother, and you might feel my story, just because you have a grandmother in the same situation. So, when I talk about Chicago, some of the things about Chicago is similar to New York life. I love the fact that New Yorkers can feel that, and really get into it – and people everywhere, to be honest. Can fans expect a sneak appearance from Sadat X, Talib Kweli, or maybe Mos Def?

Common: Um, I do want to have some people, but I don’t know who’s gonna be able to show up. I might start gettin’ on the horn and see who can come through. I do take pride in just havin’ a good show and sellin’ it. If it’s just me up there, I want y’all to know you gonna get a beautiful show.

For information on Save the Rhinos, visit