The first thing that came to mind upon seeing Common's latest album, Finding Forever, go to the top of the charts was "At last!" With the surplus of negative rappers out there, Common and his latest album promotes a very positive and healthy energy. His album emits a very ethereal and musical effort thrust forth by a team of focused producers (headed by but not dominated by Kanye West) and a lyricist with flows to go. What we do see in Common's rise to fame is a chance for both sides of hip-hop's tale to be told.
It proves to so many true hip-hop fans that, with the proper mix of marketing, magic and a belief in the music as a whole, an underground rapper with a non-gangsta message can make it to the top of the charts. However, it also made me wonder if other rappers in his "genre" would also follow suit or would they "flop" in an increasingly fickle music market. After all, if we take a look at Common's latest moves, it seems that he has taken steps to dabble in the mainstream and develop his persona within pop culture rather than waiting for it to come to him. His radio single didn't create buzz for his album amongst the average music fan; he did. Even his association with Kanye West isn't a guarantee he would do well. Yet he did, because he (and his team) have worked hard to develop his name.
In the last 3-4 years, he has been name-dropped by Jay-Z on "Moment of Clarity," a song off his acclaimed The Black Album. Just that little mention gave him a much-needed boost. His feature on Kanye's "Get 'Em High" along with his signing to Kanye's G.O.O.D. Music label immediately gave him the association to pop he needed. Through this association, a rather sexy single "Go" featuring John Mayer, and a strong album touching both his neo-soul and rap roots later, we have what many called a revival of real hip-hop, and Common as the embodiment.
His promotions include Gap commercials and posters, Converse posters, PETA ads (a connection which has led many to call him "the first vegetarian sex symbol"), a leading track on the soundtrack for the movie Freedom Writers ("I Have A Dream" featuring will-i-am), a substantial role in Smokin' Aces with an all star cast of Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, and Alicia Keys, and an appearance on Saturday Night Live with Piven adds up to his substantial visibility. His star will only prove to shine brighter for years to come, with a role in American Gangster with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, The Night Watchmen with Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker, and Wanted with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. In other words, his brand name has become enormous.