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The Drop: Common & Pete Rock

FEATURING AN ALBUM PLAYBACK AND CONVERSATION

In conjunction with the GRAMMY Museum’s exhibit, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, the GRAMMY Museum is thrilled to host an exclusive album listening of The Auditorium, Vol. 1 ahead of its release, with a conversation featuring Common and Pete Rock discussing their collaboration to follow.

An artist’s creative peak isn’t always located in the heat of their first years. Most true masters’ skills and vision actually strengthen with time. But hip-hop doesn’t often get a chance to witness this evolution, in part because established artists don’t always get support in a genre obsessed with the new, and sadly because too many don’t live long enough to even have a chance to receive it. Then there are the few, joyous cases where we get to see our heroes grow into their full superhero powers. That is the experience of listening to Common and Pete Rock—the legendary MC and pioneering producer—on their first full-length collaboration, The Auditorium, Vol. 1 (Loma Vista Recordings). 

Check the stats: Pete Rock’s production has propelled million-selling, chart-topping, award-winning hits from Nas, Public Enemy, The Notorious B.I.G., and Kanye West to Mick Jagger, Mary J. Blige, Madonna, and Lady Gaga; and his signature style—collage compositions imbued with complex harmony and melody—makes him one of the most influential and innovative figures in the history of popular music. Multi-hyphenate rapper-actor-producer-author-activist Common has created an unparalleled body of work: 15 landmark albums, standout performances in films from “American Gangster” and “Just Wright” to “Selma” and “The Hate U Give,” and most recently on Broadway performing in “Between Riverside and Crazy” and coproducing the revival of “The Wiz.” His Primetime Emmy, three Grammys, and Oscar for Best Original Song mean that Common has now transcended his EGO and is already shopping for a T that fits. 

Yet this producer and MC, though they traveled in the same creative circles and soul group for three decades, collaborated only two times—on a notable song they made together in 1994 and another in 1998. Given their independent, interstellar trajectories, there was no reason their paths should cross, until Common’s course was altered by the gravity of a big event: the Hip-Hop 50th Anniversary concert at Yankee Stadium in August 2023. Common was a featured performer, but his epiphany came as a fan: “I stood out in that crowd and watched for five-and-a-half hours. I’ve never done that in my life. Just to see EPMD, to see Lil Kim, to see Mobb Deep, Snoop, Ice Cube, Run DMC, Nas, Lauryn Hill, and Fat Joe. It just made me realize how much I love the art form. It made me want to rap.”

The next month, Common found himself in Pete Rock’s studio north of New York City. “We caught up with each other and I just started playing music,” says Pete. In those first moments, the two highly-favored sons of hip-hop realized they were coming from a similar place of gratitude and enthusiasm for the genre. Common recalls thinking: “We don’t have to reach to make it sound like a throwback. We don’t have to reach to try to make it sound like it’s new and young. We’ve just got to be who we are and do what we love.” Then came Common’s second, more urgent realization: “I can’t wait to leave here and go write.”

The Auditorium, Vol. 1 is the product of one producer and one MC, another rarity in today’s music marketplace where high-profile projects are usually occasion for a cavalcade of stars. Here, the few featured guests are chosen with requisite mindfulness. “I’m only going to work with people who are going to elevate the song,” says Common. To that end, superstar and fellow Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson lifts a refrain to the heavens in “There is a God”; and the chorus for “Everything Is So Grand” was written and sung by PJ, whom Common calls “one of the greatest writers I’ve ever been around.” Then there is the stealthy omnipresence of Common’s longtime collaborator Bilal, whose sonic shapeshifting powers approach the supernatural. “Bilal is one of those vocalists who can make his voice do all these different things. In ‘So Many People,’ you’d think he’s the sample.” De La Soul’s Posdnuos laid a dozen bars of gold on “When The Sun Shines Again.” And then there’s Pete’s turn on the mic in “All Kind of Ideas,” which is not so much a verse as it is a murder. After the recording, another longtime comrade came through: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, offering helpful advice on the album sequence.

But the most important working relationship on the album was the one Common and Pete Rock forged, not a foregone conclusion for two famous figures used to calling the musical shots. “There were a couple of times when me and Common bumped heads like, ‘Yo, man, I don’t know about that one.’” They were usually small things — the timing of a particular lyric, for example. “I had to sit and live with his idea, and he had to sit and live with my idea. And then we just said, ‘You know what? We’re going to work through this because what we’re doing is nothing less than great. If we disagree with each other, we’ll find a common ground.’ And I enjoyed that a lot.” Common echoes the sentiment: “It taught me a lot about being in a group in many ways because all the decisions are not just mine. I love teammates, but I had to get used to it on a musical level. Most producers that I worked with would just create the music, but it wasn’t a collaboration where it was like, ‘Okay, the we both need to like the title or the album cover.’ But Pete cares about his music a whole lot. He is strong-willed because the work needs to be at the level that he feels is right. And I’m like, I’m with that.” It is a mutual admiration, says Pete: “Lemme tell you how sharp that dude is when it come to the music and the hip-hop. He remembers lyrics, he remembers hooks, he remembers everything.”

The Auditorium, Vol. 1 is the past, present, and future happening all at once. In any decade, an absolute banger. Separate or together, they are in top form. And they’re already working on Vol. 2.

Member Check – In: 6:00pm

Nonmember Check – In / Doors: 6:30pm

Show Time: 7:00pm

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