Common Dials Up His Friendship With Prince on ‘Star *69′
When the rapper Common was still a child, it was the unexpected mix of God and sex that drew him to Prince's music. Years later when he was making music himself, he nabbed several dream interactions with the veteran musician, including Prince's contribution to his own "Star *69 (PS With Love)" from his 2002 record Electric Circus.
Co-produced by the Roots' Questlove, the album featured a number of guests, from Cee Lo Green and Erykah Badu to Pharrell Williams and Mary J. Blige. Even on "*69," Prince shares billing with Bilal. But according to Prince Vault, it remains unknown what exactly Prince's contributions to the song are, despite being credited with keyboards and guitar. "It is likely that Prince only plays on the 0:34 instrumental coda following the song itself, although this is not confirmed," the site says, and the two musicians didn't even record together in the studio.
But in addition to playing on the song, however small his part, Common recalls Prince inspiring him at that time. "He did have influence on me and that record. I even recorded some of it at Paisley Park," Common said. "At that time, I was being introduced to a lot of rock in general. I was listening to groups that were from different genres of rock, like Pink Floyd, Stereolab, and Prince was definitely a heavy influence."
But despite recording on the premises, he never saw Prince. "I assumed he was going to be there…and to this day I never knew if he was there or not," he said. "Because he could be watching you, we were there hoping he would pop up, but he never did. I did end up hearing a song we did and laid keyboard on it. So it was the mystery of, Is he going to show up? But then he ended up adding to the record."
Their relationship began in Common's hometown. "I first met him at this event in Chicago at this place called the Riviera. I was just happy that he spoke to me and knew who I was," he said. They told me he had asked about me and I was just grateful. He was just nice and open to talk. We talked about this song I did called “The Light.” He said, 'It’s in a major key and I like songs in major keys.' I said 'Man, I don’t know what key it’s in.' I was just honored that one of the greatest artists knew who I was and knew my music."
Of course, that's not to say all of their interactions went well. After Prince invited him to perform at his birthday at Paisley Park in 2001, he also asked him to perform at one of his own shows at O2 in London. "I didn't even know exactly which song I was gonna do until I get to the venue. And they said, 'Prince wants you to get up and do [Wild Cherry's] 'Play That Funky Music White Boy,'" Common recalled. "First of all, I don't know the words and I don't sing really ... of course, I can't really turn him down. ... I take a deep breath, and I'm lookin', they got a teleprompter."
Saved, right? Wrong! "Earlier that day, one of my contacts was itchy and red and I couldn't keep it in. I had to take one of the contacts out. This happened that afternoon before I got to the venue," he continued. "So really, kinda, I'm seeing out of one eye. I can't see all the words, and the song is going and I'm missing where the words are and the cues. Prince looked at me and they quickly cut the song shorter than they were gonna go. So Prince finished the show and I see him, he comes up. 'Wow, that, um, really went well.'"
In 2014, Common and John Legend won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for "Glory," which they wrote for the film Selma. It was the last time he saw the man. "When Prince announced the award, I was ready to just run up. I gave him a hug," he said. "I just said, 'Thank you, thank you' and he was like, 'Man, congratulations. You deserve it.' He saw how joyous I was, he came and handed me the envelope when John was talking."
Listen to "Glory" by John Legend feat. Common
"I felt like he showed up because he knew we were gonna win," he continued. "It doesn't seem like Prince would just show up for anything."
In another interview, he said accepting the award from Prince was one of the highlights of his life, but the hug may have been a bit over the top. "Just simply to win the Golden Globe with John Legend for Selma and then for Prince to present it," he said. "I remember some of my team members saw Prince walking and people’s reaction to Prince was, 'That’s Prince.' No matter how big of a movie star, everyone was amazed. To see him come out on stage and deliver the award to us made me so happy. I even remember going up to him and hugging him. People told me he had a look on his face that kinda said, 'Get off me.' I am just incredibly grateful I got to share that moment with him."