Does Common Have the GOAT Hip-Hop Career? Making the Case

Illustration for article titled Does Common Have the GOAT Hip-Hop Career? Making the Case
Photo: JOEL SAGET (Getty Images)

A few months ago, I was a guest on a podcast that I really enjoy called the 80z Babies Podcast. The show—hosted by Yinka Diz and Outlaw—focuses largely on 90s and 00s era hip-hop and breaks down classic hip-hop albums, and attempts to make good albums into classics (like one of their latest episodes, Jay-Z’s Vol. 3...The Life and Times of S. Carter), etc. It’s one of my favorite podcasts because it literally talks about the music that defines my hip-hop life. Whenever they ask me to join, I make it a point to show up and show out. Which brings us back to the first sentence; a few months we recored a somewhat contentious episode centering around Common’s Be album. Outlaw wanted to make it a classic, Yinka Diz and I agree that it’s already a classic so it was more deserving of a tribute. Either way, the convo was fun—you should check it out.


Because we recorded it so long ago, I forgot what was said, and in particular, what I said during the taping. Upon listening to it when it dropped, I remembered a hot take that I’d fully intended to write up that I never got around to: Common has had the best hip-hop career of all time.

Read that again: Common has had the best hip-hop career of all time (thus far). I’m saying thus far because who knows what the future holds and I wouldn’t put it past Drake to end up big leaguing Common. But for now.

I hear you looking at me: “P, how in the fuck could you say Common has the best hip-hop career ever when Jay-Z is alive and exists?” Jay is a billionaire, is the gawd MC (at least for those us who would put Jay in our top 10s), he owns all types of things, blah blah blah. Look, obviously there are several rappers who have had absolutely wonderful, expansive careers thanks to and because of hip-hop. LL, Jay-Z, Drake, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Lyte, Nicki Minaj, Nas, André 3000 and Big Boi—together and individually, etc. Look, nowadays, rappers are owners, teachers (it’s not uncommon to find a rapper teaching a class at a noted university nowadays), actors, authors, etc....the list goes on and on.

Lonnie Rashid Lynn aka Common Sense aka Common is standing at the top of the hill of all those folks (and the folks I didn’t name). Allow me to make a case for why. Buckle up, buttercup; we’re about to have some fun.

Common has multiple classic hip-hop albums. Look, I’ve been hard on Common in this latter part of his rap career, but that doesn’t negate ANY part of his early catalog which includes classics like Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense..., Like Water for Chocolate and Be. Even if you don’t agree that they’re all classics, Resurrection and Be are, I believe, indisputably so. Common is a respected lyricist; a Common feature was, at one point, an event. Hell, Jay-Z famously name checked him on “Moment of Clarity” on 2003's The Black Album: “ times I wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but I did five mil, I ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since...” Common has been in rap beefs (famously with Ice Cube, resulting in the Pete Rock-produced “The Bitch in Yoo”) and come out on top, and taken aim at any and everybody he felt was doing damage to the culture. Common’s rap career, well, it’s solid. He’s worked with a litany of top producers like Kanye, Dilla, Pete Rock, Premier, etc. He’s even part of the Soulquarians collective. Point is, rap wise, Common is dope. I needed to start there because the rest of this only happens because Common is (was) considered one of the hip-hop’s elite.

So what has Common been able to do because of it? I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with the most obvious. Common successfully morphed into an actual actor. Here is a list of movies he’s been in (off the top of my head, first): Just Wright, Smokin’ Aces, Luv, Selma, Barbershop 3, The Hate U Give, American Gangster, Street Kings, Wanted. That’s nine movies. Off the top of my head. According to IMDB, he’s in over 20 films...including animated movies like Happy Feet 2 and, hell, I forgot John Wick 2. Common is in action movies, romantic comedies, dramas, niche films, historical pieces. Common has bodied the acting game.


In that same vein—and maybe this is actually the most obvious—Common has won an Academy Award (for “Glory” with John Legend from the Selma soundtrack), an Emmy Award for “Letter to the Free” (from Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th) and multiple Grammys, not to mention the litany of lesser known awards he’s won for his music.

He’s a two-time New York Times best-selling author for both his memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense... and Let Love Have The Last Word.


Despite his catalog, which early on, was a lot more abrasive, aggressive and edgy, he was invited to the White House to recite poetry by The Obamas, which means The Obamas messed with Common, hardbody. Which leads to the fact that he managed to turned that edgy Chi-town persona into a much more vanilla, but profitable persona that gets invited to The White House, stars in romantic comedies as the lead and becomes the spokesman for billion dollar corporate brands like Microsoft, for which he became a commercial spokesman. Every hip-hop head had to laugh at that one, but we all enjoyed seeing Common in that space.

Just to recap so far, he’s a successful rapper, actor and writer, he’s in commercials and managed to re-invent himself as Common, the guy you all love and the bridge for folks into hip-hop, so much so that he wins awards for it. If you don’t think Common isn’t trying to win a Tony so he can have that damn EGOT that John Legend won’t shut up about, you must be smoking rocks.


NOT to mention that his name is Common, literally one of the most common (no pun intended) words in the English language, yet, if you google “common” he is LITERALLY the first thing that shows up. Do you know how hard it is to take a regular word and become so synonymous with it that Google puts you at 1???? 

Moving onto some of the important stuff, he’s a social activist who has used his platform and voice to help make the world a better place. Hell, he even atteded Florida A&M University, though he didn’t graduate (to my knowledge) but was eventually awarded an honorary doctorate from the HBCU. I have no idea what he does or doesn’t have an ownership stake in, but I imagine he must be part of something that also nets him more millions.


Basically, Common has done it all. And done it all super successfully. I’m not saying other rappers haven’t killed the game, but I am saying that every game Common has gotten into he has murdered at the highest-crime boss level and all because of hip-hop, thus, in conclusion, henceforth and forevermore (thus far)...

...Common has the GOAT hip-hop career.

Thanks, Obama.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.


Kevin Tomlinson

Strong argument, but if the outside of music stuff counts in this assessment, I don’t know how he beats Queen Latifah. Not only a pioneering MC, but a A-list/#1 on the callsheet actor, plus she’s had her hand in a bunch of other hip-hop careers behind the scenes with Flava Unit. Common is a strong supporting actor, but he ain’t carrying no movie or franchise on his back. Queen got that on lock many times over. Love Common, but I’m not sure he ever was the clear cut #1 MC the year any of his classics even came out. He’s a better MC than Queen Latifah, but she’s multiple levels ahead of him in Hollywood.