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Rapper Common shares his favorite Chicago memories

The South Side native recalls his first intro to hip-hop and a stint as a Bulls ball boy.

ILLUSTRATION: JOHN UELAND

Before he became hip-hop superstar Common, Lonnie Rashid Lynn was just a South Side kid, sneaking into neighbors’ backyards to shoot hoops, riding his bike along the train tracks and listening to hip-hop on WHPK 88.5FM, the first station to play the genre in Chicago. We spoke to the rapper/actor, 39, from the set of his forthcoming Disney movie, The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

On whipping Devil’s Peak
“I’m from basically the South Side, I guess technically it would be the Chatham or Avalon neighborhoods but we didn’t have a specific name. I just used to say, ‘I’m from around 87th and Stony.’ A fun thing we did when we were growing up was to go ride our bikes through this place called Devil’s Peak. It was by 95th and Stony Island, right behind these train tracks. It was kind of crazy because it was one of the roughest paths; it was like being a stuntman to be able to ride through there on your bike. I definitely got hurt doing that, but overall you just felt like, ‘Man, I just rode through Devil’s Peak!’ ”

On chasing balls for Michael Jordan
“When I was 11, till maybe 13 [1983–85 seasons], I was a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls. I came in on a year when they weren’t that great, but they had some cool players like Quintin Dailey, Ennis Whatley and Orlando Woolridge. But after a year, a man by the name of Michael Jordan came in. I will never forget seeing Jordan play a song in the locker room during the first exhibition game and the general manager, Rod Thorn, saying to him he can’t play music, that’s the rule. But after the second exhibition game they told him he could play whatever he wanted because he was that good. Just to be around that kind of transition, and getting to bond [with] and meet Michael Jordan and all those cats, was obviously one of the best experiences you could ever have in life.”

On falling in love with hip-hop
“A turning point in my life and career was when I started going up to [the University of Chicago’s community radio station] WHPK when I was, like, 15 years old, going on 16. First and foremost, that was where I heard all the hip-hop I was getting. Growing up in Chicago, you weren’t biased to a certain coast; you could just be a hip-hop listener, and they played it all. It was JP Chill, Chilly Q and a guy named K-Ill when I first started going up there. I would ask them could they play my demo tape, and they did.”

On the best South Side eats
“I love the food in Chicago. I love Harold’s Chicken, Leon’s Barbecue, Giordano’s Pizza. But before I even knew Giordano’s, it was Rossi’s Pizza and Italian Fiesta—those are the authentic Chicago places where I was just always excited to get that food.”

On the city’s lasting influence
“Chicago shaped me, because it gave me a perspective of who I am as a person and it gave me a foundation. Being around authentic people, blue-collar people that have soul and are true, that permitted me to be that type of person. Chicago also just gave me a chance to hear music from all walks of life. Chicago is in touch with all the soul music that existed: In 2011 you can turn on the radio and feel like you’re listening in the ’70s. Chicago is just very soulful.”

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