Black History Month is also, unofficially, Black Record Store Day Month. The Record Store Day organization has made it a mission throughout February 2021 to put the spotlight each day on a different Black-owned music shop in the U.S., a cause that has involved bringing in Common to help shine the spotlight on independent retailers that deserve the patronization every month of the year.
“I owe so much to record stores and specifically Black-owned record stores,” Common tells Variety. “I’m very grateful to be a part of Record Store Day supporting Black-owned record stores because of what they’ve meant to me and what they’ve meant to Black culture and getting Black music out to the world. So I think it’s only right. It’s like, to whom much is given, much is required. For me, this is my duty.”
The list has been given its own page on the RSD website that will be a valuable resource for vinyl enthusiasts who want to seek out stores that are mainstays of the Black communities in their respective cities, as well as those that may serve such a diverse clientele that they may not even be known as Black-owned without being proudly pointed out as such.
Although there are 28 days in the month, the list actually adds up to 3o stores, thanks to Feb. 5 — the day that Common’s new album came out on vinyl — being devoted on the website to three “hometown picks” from the city where the Oscar- and Grammy-winning hip-hop titan grew up. The range of shops included in apparent just from Common’s trio of picks alone: It includes a store that opened in Chicago as long ago as 1968, Out of the Past Records, and another that came into being as recently as 2018, South Rhodes Records.
“It’s so beautiful to know that there’s record stores that existed in the ‘60s that are still alive and people are taking that business to those record stores and supporting vinyl,” he says. “And it’s so incredible to think about a record store opening in 2018, because that means younger generations are participating. It’s great to be able to carry the tradition of what record stores have been historically, to my generation and people older than I am, and see younger kids engaged. Because I do believe that putting a needle on a record is a different feeling and experience of music than any other feeling I’ve had. And that was the first way I heard music.”
Common also participated in an hour-long Zoom call with record store owners around the country earlier this month to talk about his love of vinyl, and about his latest album, “A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1,” which was released in other formats back in October but came out as an indie-exclusive red/white/blue split-color vinyl LP this month. (He’s pictured above holding up his hefty turntable during the retailer Zoom session.)
The local shops that Common personally grew up on in Chicago are unfortunately gone, but he’s able to instantly recall their names and locations and the LPs he bought there.
“I’m 48, soon to be 49,” he says, “so I saw eight-tracks but I never had one myself. I grew up going to a record store called Metro Music on 87th street, which is on the south side of Chicago, and eventually I would go to Coop’s Records, and then George’s Music Room. The stores I used to frequent were mostly in Chicago, Detroit, places I went to with a lot of crate diggers.”
As a child, he says, “one record I owned was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Hotter Than July,’ which really helped shape me. Even though I know that’s probably not most people’s favorite album of Stevie’s, for some reason, as a kid, I played that over and over — especially the song ‘Happy Birthday.’ It made me feel good. Now, little did I know that that song was helping to create Dr. King’s birthday to be a national holiday. It shaped me because that was my first time really being aware — even though I wasn’t totally aware — that that was revolutionary music in itself, music that had social consciousness to it.
“And then I would just go buy any hip-hop. New records would come out on Tuesdays back then, so I would go buy any record that would come out. Eventually it became cassettes, let me be honest. But my first hip-hop record that my father bought me was Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force, ‘Planet Rock’…. No, no, my first was Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, ‘The Message.’”
Common’s own early releases in the 1990s came out on vinyl, albeit in limited quantities, as the format by then was in a lull of being nearly forgotten before its 2000s comeback as the medium of choice for serious music heads.
“I feel like one of the most valuable gifts you can give to somebody is a record,” he says. “And for me to have a new album be out on record and to be a part of Record Store Day and be a part of the mission to continue the story of people enjoying music through vinyl, man, it’s valuable for me. It touches my heart. To hold your own record is a gift. And for me to see my album in 2021 on wax is like, whoa… it just makes me grateful seeing that.
“And I’m so happy that I got to do a talk with some of the record store owners and answer questions but also listen. I have so much reverence for those who own and work in these stores because a lot of people do it for the love. Obviously it’s a business and they’ve got to keep their business flowing, but to stay in tune with what wax is and stay in tune with what records are, you’ve got to have a love for music and for what a record is.”
The organizers for the semi-annual Record Store Day events have made a concentrated effort in recent years to encourage labels to issue more hip-hop albums on vinyl, to make sure it’s not just the stereotypical older-middle-aged rock-loving record nerds lining up every April and November (or, in the case of this year’s pandemic-delayed major RSD event, June 19). Common thinks there’s room for growth there but says this list of stores indicate an awareness and appetite that already exists for Black music in LP form.
“I can’t speak for the whole Black community, but I can speak for Black people that I know, and I do believe they have an appreciation for vinyl,” he says. “And when it is re-introduced to them, it’s a reminder of how much they loved it. For some of the Black community, as we become introduced to it or are re-introduced to it, it will re-engage us. And that’s why part of the record store story has to have Black music involved. And that doesn’t mean that you’re only going to get Black people buying Black music! But of course, if it’s an artist that I love that’s a Black musician and they’ve got music out— if, say, a Robert Glasper has some music out on wax, I’m gonna go out and be enthused to get it. And we will go out and support some of our own and go out to our own record stores, which is important.
“And I think it’s important that whatever color you are, you support some of the Black-owned record stores. I got a call today from my lawyer, who I love, who is always telling me, ‘I just bought this record on wax.’ Today he said, ‘I need you to get me a record store out here in L.A. that’s Black-owned that I can go to.’ And that made me proud. That’s the way to change things in real organic, pure ways that come from being a good human being, to say, ‘Man, I’m going to go to this store and support a store that’s usually not getting as much attention or doesn’t have as much access.’ And that’s dope. That’s part of the way we change the world.”
Besides offering support for independent retailers in his Zoom call with them, Common explained the intentions behind his “A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1” release.
“I wrote it in late August and September, and I was writing it from everything that had happened through the summer,” he said. “The summer of 2020 to me crystalized a lot of things, and a lot of people got to see it because we were still. But these were things we had experienced throughout our lives, whether we saw Rodney King or Yusef Hawkins or Amadou Diallo, so George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were just shining examples” of incidents that were already commonplace in more distracted times. “For me, the story of Emmett Till affected me when I was a little kid. So I wanted this record to be something that took that charge — because I walked in some of the protests; I was around the people — and I wanted to take that energy and put it into music that was productive in ways that could be inspiring. It could still have the drive and charge of what revolution is, but be culminating into something that is beautiful and bright, and when you put it on you feel better.
“This music for sure is movement music,” he said. He had his own list os source records for his new one: “When I think of movement music, I think of Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Kendrick Lamar, Public Enemy and KRS-One. In fact I was listening to a lot of KRS-One and ‘90s hip-hop before I started this project.”