With a musical output that spans decades and quiet influence that’s helped shape an entire subgenre of emo-backpack rap, Common has one of the most illustrious careers in Hip-Hop. He started out in 1992 as “Common Sense” when he dropped his debut produced mostly by No I.D. Can I Borrow A Dollar?, a quiet album that showed sparks of his talent. But it was his two subsequent releases, also produced by No. I.D., 1994’s Resurrection and 1997’s One Day It’ll All Make Sense that cemented his arrival as one of rap’s top-tier emcees, known for his layered storytelling, emotional honesty, and lyrical charisma.
Over the next two decades, he’d release a string of albums that established him as a unique talent with an enviable career, including the projects that would grant him the mainstream success that had alluded him early on kickstarted by 2001’s Like Water For Chocolate, helmed by the Soulquarian collective. But it was his Kanye West era that re-established Common as one of rap’s most talented emcees after his lackluster reception to 2002s Electric Circus. His time with Kanye also gave him his most successful run on the charts with 2004’s Be and 2007’s Finding Forever.
In the 2000s, he expanded beyond Hip-Hop, jump-starting his film and television career, and now he’s only a Tony Award away from reaching EGOT Status, the only rapper to hold that distinction.
Common continues to craft solid albums that showcase his ear for music and his lyrical maturity. We’ve sifted through his decades-long career to pick 25 of his best songs.
Sure, the song from his 2000 album Like Water For Chocolate was very on the nose and maybe a little book report-ish but you can’t really diss a song that gives a history lesson about the activist hero, Assata Shakur.
The No I.D.-produced banger featured on The Dreamer/The Believer sparked some controversy because people thought Common was taking shots at Drake. He denied it, there was a mini back-and-forth, and then it was over. Drama aside, “Sweet” is a solid fairly rare street-friendly entry into Common’s latter-era discography.
One of the tracks that announced Common Sense to the game. A fresh-faced Com and No I.D. team up to help kickstart each other's illustrious careers on this verbose display from 1992's Can I Borrow A Dollar?
Over melancholy DJ Premier production and accented by an aching hook from Bilal, Common delivers a strong offering from his acclaimed project, Like Water For Chocolate.
On his 1994 title track, Common’s flow is seamless over No I.D.’s piano-based production which samples David Axelrod, Ahmad Jamal, and the Whatnauts. DJ Mista Sinista’s scratches further help bring the track to life.
In 2019, Common teamed up with acclaimed drummer/producer Karriem Riggins and quietly dropped a sleeper jewel in his long discography, Let Love Live. The album is jazzy and somber, anchored by Riggins’ production, and features vocalists/musicians including Jill Scott, and BJ The Chicago Kid. The album opener “Good Morning Love” featuring Samora Pinderhughes exemplifies the jazzy-soul direction of the album.
Common drew a diss from Ice Cube and Cube's cohorts in Westside Connection for some lines he rapped on 1994's "I Used To Love H.E.R." (more on that later); and Com Sense fired back with this heater. The song first appeared on the Relativity Records compilation Relativity Urban Assault in 1996 and features Common going at Cube, Mack 10 and W.C.
Common gets deeply personal, detailing the sexual abuse he survived on the bass-led jazz track, “Memories of Home” from 2019’s Let Love Life featuring stellar vocals from fellow Chicago native, BJ The Chicago Kid.
Common’s 2020 release, A Beautiful Revolution Part 1, continued his relationship with renowned jazz musicians Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins and saw him work with a core band or the entirety o the project ( PJ on vocals, Robert Glasper on keys, Karriem Riggins on drums, Burniss Travis on bass, and Isaiah Sharkey on guitar). This mid-tempo dance track was a standout entry from the jazz/soul-influenced album.
Common is all about a good acronym and on this track from One Day It’ll All Make Sense he explores the concept of religion over a chill, piano-heavy track featuring distinctive vocals and a dope verse from Cee-Lo.
Another Kanye West production, this time from the 2007 album, Finding Forever, it’s Common in his element rhyming about the beauty of the Diaspora while Dwele throws an assist on vocals.
Carried by a transcendent sample of "Innocent Til Proven Guilty" by 70s girl group Honey Cone, and one of Common's all-time best music videos; this classic track from Be is an early '00s winner from the tandem of Com and Ye.
Common reminds everyone again that no matter how many TV appearances he makes, he’s still a skilled rapper when he reconnects with No I.D. and gets an assist from Nas on his ninth album, The Dreamer/Believer. The song was also featured on the Madden NFL 12 soundtrack.
When Common reconnected with his longtime friend and early producer, No I.D. on The Dreamer/The Believer in 2011, people weren’t totally sure what to expect. Any doubts were laid to rest, however, as illustrated on the head-bobbing, mid-tempo album opener “The Dreamer.”
A Kanye West production featuring vocals from John Mayer, “Go” is a gem from the album that reintroduced Common as a top-level emcee, Be, and a groovy addition to his catalog.
Produced by the legendary J. Dilla and featuring keys from James Poyser “The Light” is the most recognizable track from Common’s acclaimed 2000 album, Like Water for Chocolate. The semi-sappy love jam that samples Bobby Caldwell’s classic “Open Your Eyes” remains a radio favorite.
Kanye West did snap with this beat, so did John Legend with the hook. Once again, Common is at his height lyrically on this sleeper gem from Be: “They say a nigga lost his mind/But in the scheme of things I never lost a rhyme/The thin line between love and hatred/”I’m the black pill in the Matrix, the saturated life.”
Common’s Like Water For Chocolate helped kick off the legendary Soulquarian era, and there might not be another song on the album that represents the collective’s sound more than “Geto Heaven” featuring D’Angelo on vocals over production by J. Dilla. Common delivers grounded verses about Blackness and survival.
Common is in his new lane when he’s rapping about relationships (both with himself and with women), and this track contemplates the idea of God being a woman and spins a tale about a man struggling with indiscretions is one of the best on Be. It’s strengthened by the back and forth between John Legend and frequent collaborator, Bilal, at the end of the track.
willi.i.am samples Minnie Riperton on this mid-tempo jam from Finding Forever that ended up creating a lane for a lot of Common’s later work, which leans heavily into a mellow, grown man rap aesthetic. The video was pretty cool too, co-directed by Kerry Washington and starring Alicia Keys.
“The Corner” from his 2005 album Be, is Common in top form over a Kanye West beat.
“Why do I need ID to get ID? If I had ID I wouldn’t need ID.” The Questions” from Like Water For Chocolate and produced by J. Dilla is one of the most comical, honest songs Common ever made, aided by a perplexed, but always lyrical Mos Def.
Whether you consider this a Common or a Slum Village track (it’s also featured on their album Fantastic, Vol. 2), there’s no question that this is one of the dopest Hip-Hop offerings of the past 20 years. J. Dilla was at his peak when he crafted what might be the best beat on Common’s fourth album, 2000’s Like Water for Chocolate.
The somber, beautiful track (produced by No I.D. and James Poyser and featuring a Donny Hathaway sample) is a great display of what might be Common’s greatest strength as an emcee—emotive storytelling. Lauryn Hill’s raw vocals on the hook interpolate Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” and are a perfect stamp on the standout rap classic featured on his 1997’s album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense.
It kind of has to be, right? Romanticized rap nostalgia before it was cool. Yes, it’s the source of one of rap’s most overused metaphors. It’s also one of the best rap songs of all time, and one of Common’s signature tracks from 1994’s Resurrection, as he creatively details his relationship with the genre he loves.