Nas, Common Explain the Songwriting Process at BMI Event
Nas and Common gave fans first person insight on how they wrote some of their biggest hits at BMI’s ‘How I Wrote That Song’ panel at the House of Blues in Los Angeles Saturday (Jan. 30). The MCs sat alongside famed producer and collaborator Salaam Remi, singers Colbie Caillat and Zac Brown plus Latin producer Seabstian Krys to discuss the writing process.
Starting with his critically acclaimed debut ‘Illmatic,’ Nas explained the progression of his career over the years and noted if he felt pressure to live up to his own hype. “In the beginning it was cool because I would sit in my room,” he told the crowd. “It [felt] like I was in this solitude in this caved in area that no one could come in. It didn’t matter what was going on outside. It didn’t matter who was No. 1 on the charts, it didn’t matter if my bills was gonna get paid. I was living in the crib and moms was taking care of me. I miss those days of sitting there without a care in the world, don’t matter what I say, don’t matter what you think about it, it’s just gonna be me, it’s gonna be the way I feel.
“Now I got kids and they like Gucci Mane and everything that’s hot, they like Common, so now they’re watching me and I’m watching what I say. I’ve build up a little following and I don’t want to be trapped to that because I want to stay free but today I’m thinking about a lot more than I used to.”
For Chicago-born Common, his writing process begins with hearing the music before putting lyrics together. “Sometimes I wrote raps that wasn’t to the music,” he began. “If I can get the music first, I love to do that. I get thoughts and different little lines that I may come up with and I can throw them in a song here and there, but it’s best for me to have music. I like getting music and I ride in my car and I just sit and let my thoughts just flow. I’ll just kind of freestyle to myself and after I get a line that I like I’ll keep piecing it together. I really like riding and writing because it’s therapeutic. Being out here on the West Coast you get to see the water and stuff but. It was also helpful for me to ride around Chicago and see the struggle and what was going on.” The event also included Common performing his song ‘The Light,’ assisted by an impromptu addition of Caillat who chimed in with her guitar and sang the song’s chorus.
Producer Salaam Remi, who is known for breaking R&B, soul and hip-hop artists like the Fugees, Amy Winehouse and Jazmine Sullivan, is also delving into pop-culture and will produce the soundtrack for the ‘Sex and The City’ film. No matter the genre Remi revealed that the process is still the same. “For me, being a great producer, it’s really just about working with a great artist.” he said.
Founded in 1939, BMI is one of the world’s largest performing rights organizations, and issues licensing to various media outlets such as radio, television and new media. In 2009 the company collecting over $900 million in licensing fees for songwriters, music publisher and composers. Some of the company’s big name members include Mariah Carey, Barry Manilow, and the late Michael Jackson.