By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
Denver's Lonnie Lynn hadn't been planning to make his debut as a rapper. After all, Lynn's game was basketball, not hip hop--and it had been nearly two decades since he'd shot hoops for a living. His son, Rashid, was the Lynn who specialized in rhyming: Operating under the name Common Sense, he had received raves for the raps on his first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, and seemed ready to establish his native Chicago as a comer on the hip-hop music scene. So when Lynn traveled to Chicago last year, during a period when Common Sense was cutting the tracks that would wind up on the impressive disc Resurrection, he certainly didn't expect that he'd soon be behind a microphone, freestyling for all he was worth.
"I was just in town visiting," Lynn says, laughing. "And Rashid asked me to drop by the studio. When I got there, Rashid was in the booth working on a song with some engineers, and there was pizza and soda lying around. He and I embraced, and then he said, `Dad, why don't you go out there and do something?' And I said, `What, you want me to get you some more pizza?' And he said, `No, go in the booth and say something.' So I did."
What popped into Lynn's head were the themes he focuses upon in his current job as director of the Colorado branch of the Amer-I-Can Foundation, a life-skills-management program started in 1988 by football legend Jim Brown. As he puts it, "I stressed peace, love and harmony. I figured, how can you go wrong with peace, love and harmony?"
Common Sense certainly liked what he heard. "I felt what he said had so much soul," Rashid notes from Atlanta, a stop on his current tour. "After listening to it one time, I said, `Nobody can tell me I'm not putting this on my album.'"
Nobody did. Resurrection concludes with "Pop's Rap," a cut that mates a sly beat and dancing keyboards with Lynn's throaty rumble of a voice. More surprising, the number doesn't seem like a throwaway. Rather, it serves as the perfect conclusion to a CD that dares to be different. "I knew putting `Pop's Rap' out there wouldn't be considered the `in' thing," Common Sense concedes. "It was kind of going against the grain--but that's what I wanted to do. I thought, this is my father, and he said something I liked. A lot of his stuff is instilled in me genetically. I'm an extension of him."
Families don't make many appearances in hip hop these days--unless the families are falling apart, that is. Common Sense's folks aren't together, either: The Lynns divorced when Rashid was only two. But Common Sense's mother and father remain vital parts of his life, and over the years they've helped him develop his own voice. What he's got to say isn't all G-rated--when he's in the mood, he can throw down street language with the best of them--but it's fresh, intelligent and genuine compared with what passes for wisdom in rap these days. As Common Sense puts it, "I get tired of hearing the same old stuff. There's so much potential in hip hop--it's the voice of black and Hispanic youth. It's our communication. And I feel like we've got to expand on it. Keep it going and keep it growing."
This sentiment is shared by Lynn, who, like his son, isn't shy about climbing onto soapboxes or leaping for what might seem out of reach. A Chicago native, he was a strapping kid who eventually reached six feet, eight inches in height. As a teenager he became something of a schoolyard basketball legend due to his ability to play like a muscular center one minute, a shooting guard the next. Because he was also into African-American pride and empowerment, however, he decided to pass over better-known basketball factories in favor of Ohio's Wilberforce University, founded in 1856 as the nation's first all-black college.
In 1963, shortly after enrolling, Lynn met Mary, a fellow Wilberforce student who would become his wife upon their graduation in 1968. By then, Lynn had made enough of a name for himself on the basketball court that he was drafted by the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks. He didn't make the team, though, and when he failed to catch on with another franchise, he opted for semi-pro leagues. "I played in Trenton, New Jersey, and Binghamton, New York," he remembers. "And I held the scoring record for Springfield, Massachusetts."
But Lynn didn't spend his entire four-year professional basketball career in the minors. He was briefly on the upstart American Basketball Association's Pittsburgh squad and spent the 1969-70 season with the Denver Rockets, the precursor to the Nuggets. With greats such as Spencer Haywood on the Rockets' roster, Lynn didn't get a lot of playing time, but he was charmed by the city, which he had visited when he was a child. "I fell in love with it here," he says. "I knew that I'd live here someday."
Relocating to Colorado was delayed by Rashid's birth, in 1972, and Lynn's divorce from Mary two years later. Lynn remained in Chicago, where he was employed by several local youth programs. "I did a lot of work with gangs," he recalls. "People forget that there were gangs back then, too. And a lot of the ones I dealt with--the Vice Lords, the Blackstone Rangers, the Cobras--are still together today." After moving to Denver in 1979, he continued counseling kids at risk at the Lookout Mountain School for Boys, where he was employed until last year.