Common Couldn’t Be More Grateful for Bobby Caldwell
J Dilla sampled a Bobby Caldwell classic on the rapper’s hit single “The Light.”
Over the last 24 hours, memorials and tributes to the late Bobby Caldwell have poured out across social media. There’s been innumerable RIPs, tender memories, and, of course, an obligatory multi-tiered Questlove eulogy for the singer, songwriter and, producer, who had been sampled on some of the most revered hip-hop and r&b songs of the 1990s and 2000s.
Sadly, many of the producers and rappers who have borrowed or interpolated Caldwell’s silky and jazz-driven r&b compositions are no longer with us. But, Common, one of few remaining beneficiaries of the singer’s sample legacy, sent some flowers up while he still could. “I can’t thank you enough!,” the Chicago rapper wrote in a tribute on Instagram. “May God bless the soul of Bobby Caldwell!,” he added in the caption attached to the cover of Caldwell’s 1980 sophomore album, Cat In The Hat.
J Dilla built the rapper’s hit single, “The Light,” around a segment of Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes.” The song arguably marks the precise moment Common crossed over from respected post-Native Tongues rapper to Soulquarian frontman with pop potential. And the rapper has been fairly open about the importance of “The Light” to his career and catalog. In a behind-the-scenes 2014 profile on the making of the song — which appeared on his breakout 2000 album, Like Water For Chocolate — Common recalls how “The Light” attuned new ears to his work. “Man, I never experienced this. I’d always had the hip-hop crowd, the people who love hip-hop, but this was like mainstream to have little kids like, ‘The Light! The Light!.’ You know, singing the song. That’s when I started feeling the difference and felt the song was reaching people I had never reached before,” the rapper noted.
In his tribute, Questlove — who was central to the Soulquarian creative brain trust that produced an era-defining slate of albums in a late-90s takeover of Electric Lady Studios — explained how “The Light” was almost shelved for not being “Dilla enough.”
“But man I’m so glad I was wrong about this,” the Roots drummer admitted.