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A Common Wonder: Liner Notes

A Common Wonder

With our latest Soul Mates Project release, fittingly titled “A Common Wonder,” Amerigo Gazaway brings to life an imagined studio session between Chicago’s crowned prince of Hip-Hop, Common, and Motown legend, Steve Wonder.

A return to the Soul meets Hip-Hop formula of his Marvin Gaye + Mos Def pairing “Yasiin Gaye,” Gazaway connects the dots between Hip-Hop and the genre’s predecessor with a musical history lesson told through the intersecting themes of Common and Stevie’s respective catalogues. As Gazaway put it:

“Stevie Wonder’s early use of synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers, in a lot of ways, paved the way for hip-hop and sampling. Part of my motivation for this project was to highlight those contributions.”

Picking up where Common and Stevie’s 2016 “Black America Again,” single left off, Amerigo brings his imagined recording session to life with a slew of uncovered resources (including multitrack instrument stems, interview audio, and documentary soundbites.) Re-orchestrating deconstructed samples, the producer interweaves Common’s vivid wordplay and Wonder’s passionate vocals for a project that blurs the line between a “mashup” and a modern day duets album.

1. Intro Theme (I Wonder)

The album begins with a question,  hence the title “A Common Wonder: “I wonder why the world’s so cold?”.  If you listen closely, you’ll start to realize that Common and Stevie are asking a lot of similar questions in their music. I also included a sample of Stevie reciting lyrics from his song “Visions”, where he asks another question: “can a place like this exist so beautiful? Or do we have to take our wings and fly away to the visions in our mind”. To me, this represents a place where anything is possible; a place where Common and Stevie collaborated on a whole album. (For more “questions”, see Common’s “The Questions feat. Mos Def”)

2. I Was Made to Love H.E.R.

This was one of the first tracks I made for the project. It just had that warm summertime vibe, plus there are so many overlapping parallels between Stevie’s lyrics and Common’s. Many rappers since have tried to follow the same formula, but in my opinion, Common’s “I Used to Love Her” was (and still is) the quintessential blueprint for the ultimate hip-hop love song. 

A Common Wonder - I Was Made to Love H.E.R.

3. Living For The Chi-City

I had access to the original multitracks for the this song (drums, bass, keys, synthesizer, etc), which made it a lot more interesting. For the verses however, I removed most of the samples and recorded live bass, guitar, and keys instead. For the rhythm section, I did lots of layering, combining sampled breakbeats and triggered oneshots. Pretty standard stuff for the production minded folks out there. Anyway, I feel like like Stevie’s growling synth bass and the driving rhythm complimented Common’s aggressive flow nicely.

4. Resurrection to Higher Ground

For this track, I really wanted to make a connection between Common’s “Resurrection” and Stevie’s “Higher Ground” (which is essentially a song about reincarnation). The beat is sampled from another Stevie track, but I sprinkled in the acapella for “Higher Ground” on the hook: “Let me try it again, Let-Let me try it again”. On the outro, I let the original No ID/Ahmad Jamal sample ride (because it’s amazing). 

A Common Wonder - Resurrection to Higher Ground

5. Bad Girl feat. Kanye West

I love this track. This was around the time when Stevie really started incorporating synthesizers into his music. It’s just so funky and smooth at the same damn time. Plus Kanye and Common have a musical chemistry that just can’t be denied. There were several other Common/Kanye joints I wanted to include on the album, but there’s only room for so much Kanye.

6. The Sixth Superstition

This was the second track I made (I think?). It incorporates multitracks (bass, horns, clav, synth vocals, etc) from “Superstition”, “Higher Ground” and “I Wish”. Again, I love hearing Stevie’s growling synthesizer bass lines juxtaposed with keyboards and live instruments, especially the clavinet. Kinda cool how it ended up being track six on the album…I didn’t even think about that until now.

A Common Wonder - The Sixth Superstition7. Innervision Intermission

The vocal sample is from an interview that Common did on the Rap Radar podcast where he talked about his real-life collaboration with Stevie Wonder. My creative partner, Rickey, had sent me the link a while back to maybe include somewhere on the album but I wasn’t sure where to use it. Later, I was messing around with this breakbeat record one day (from the “Cracker Beats” series) and found the one that samples Stevie’s “Hey Love” and The Honeydrippers “Impeach The President”. It just seemed like the perfect fit. 

8. Sugar By The Pound

“Soul By the Pound” was the lead single off Common’s debut album “Can I Borrow A Dollar”. However for this version I used the vocals from the “Thump Mix”, which is quite a bit different from the original. That’s the version I grew up listening to, and for some reason I’ve always liked it a little more than the album cut. Shouts to The Goodwill Projects for all the DIY acapellas he contributed, including this one.

A Common Wonder - Sugar By the Pound

9. For Once In My Life feat. Erykah Badu

I wanted to include Erykah on the project somewhere and this seemed like a great place to do that. Fun fact: The drums are sampled from the intro to Amy Winehouse’s – “You Know I’m No Good”. And yes, that is the legendary Chuck D on the outro.

10. Like They Used to Say

Ah, Sir Duke. I also had the original multitracks for this one, which allowed me to do a lot of chopping and rearranging (keys, horns, guitar, etc). I recreated the scratches one by one, because the acapella didn’t have them in it. The jazz song playing in the background during the outro while they’re talking is actually a Duke Ellington song entitled “Stevie”.

11. God Bless the Freestyle (Interlude)

This was a Stevie Wonder beat/interlude that I had made while back and forgotten about until recently. I couldn’t find a proper acapella to go with it so I threw in a sample of Common freestyling instead. Shout out to Best Buy!

12. The Light (I’m Yours) feat. Bobby Caldwell 

This track came together pretty early on. I was listening to the original version of “The Light”, and as soon as I heard Common say “signed, sealed, delivered for us to grow together”… that’s when I knew what had to be done. That’s actually Stevie playing the drums on the track, a multitrack stem from another song. Can you guess which one?

A Common Wonder - The Light (I'm Yours)

13. Southside feat. Kanye West

Common and Kanye go IN on this joint. No hooks, just bars for days. Plus the sample was just begging to be flipped. I did throw in a little scratch hook toward the end for good measure, which was a lot of fun. 

14. Pop’s Rap feat. Lonnie Lynn Sr. 

Many of Common’s albums feature his Pops, Lonnie Lynn Sr., talking/rapping in spoken word on the outro, and this album is no exception. The sample is from a live version of Stevie Wonder’s “Visions, but I played around with the pitch and transposed it in a couple spots. I also added a sped-up breakbeat to give it that drum & bass sort of feel. It kind of reminds me of Mos Def’s “Umi Says” or the end of the The Roots’  “You Got Me” (where Questlove’s drumming gets really fast and starts going into double time). 

*15. The Sixth Wonder (Bonus Track)

Just when I thought I was done with the project, I heard a Stevie sample come on that reminded me of something DJ Premier would flip. I had already done “The Sixth Superstition”, but I wanted to pay homage to the original version (produced by Preemo) and put my own spin on it. The hook is taken from Stevie Wonder’s “So What The Fuss”, which originally featured Prince on guitar. There’s even a remix of it with Q-Tip and Stevie over Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones Pt. II instrumental. Yeah, so that happened.

A Common Wonder - Tracklist

 Credits

Soul Mates Records 2017

Produced by Amerigo Gazaway

Executive Producer: Rickey Mindlin 

Common: vocals/lyrics

Stevie Wonder: vocals/lyrics, instruments 

Amerigo Gazaway: samplers, bass, guitar, keys, synth, turntables

DIY acapellas created by The Goodwill Projects