As a Grammy-winning rapper, actor, activist and part-time ad model, it seems like Common has a lot on his plate these days. But in December, the artist added clothing designer to his list of talents.
Common has teamed up with Microsoft’s T-shirt line, Softwear, to design vintage-inspired tees that tap into the nostalgia of the earliest computers and show how the marriage of hip-hop and technology has changed the entertainment industry. His four new designs in the Softwear line premiered at this week’s MAGIC conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
And unlike some other celebrity clothing designers, Common isn’t just helping designers; he is the designer, a big reason why Microsoft recruited the hip-hop artist.
“We wanted someone who was going to be really passionate about the product and bring a different flavor to the project,” Microsoft lifestyle marketing manager Kenyatta Bynoe said. “Common has always been known for his sense of style and his fashion sense so we thought he’d be a great fit.”
Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., said Microsoft approached him for the project.
“Microsoft is one of the biggest companies in the world and I liked that they let my vision come out,” he said. “When they presented who they were, I respected it … I was like ‘Ya’ll did originate some things. Ya’ll have your own voice and so do I.”
Softwear’s style can be described as modern-day hip-hop meets 80s vintage. The line celebrates 1985 as a pivotal year for Microsoft -- the year the company launched its first version of Windows and hip-hop began to go mainstream.
“I really believe that the brand is a combination of what Microsoft is about and what Common is about,” Common said. “I’m a creative artist, a progressive artist, and I strive to be soulful and innovative, and for me, I think Microsoft is becoming more educated on the [hip-hop] industry and they’re becoming more creative and innovative, too.”
The line features eight designs, four of which are Common’s. Each T-shirt is given a special name by its hip-hop designer: The Giver, featuring the message “Be Kind”; The Reminisce, which displays a mosaic of retro computer items making up a big “85”; The Creator with Common’s “I Used to Love Her” lyrics in “old-school” PC lime-green type and The Vision, which pays homage to Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates.
“We created a T-shirt called The Vision with these shades where you have Bill Gates glasses that are really nerdy looking. But nowadays, it’s 2009, there’s no separation. Nerds hang out with the street dudes,” Common said. “There’s no color separation like there was before.”
Each T-shirt comes complete with a floppy disk tag and the now-famous Gates quote, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one someday.”
Common sported The Vision T-shirt at his concert Tuesday night at the Palms, where he promoted Softwear and his current album “Universal Mind Control.” The album, Common said, is much like the clothing line: current but with a retro flair.
“If you listen to the album and the first single “Universal Mind Control,” it has a future sound but ironically the future sound kind of sounds like some of the early 80s music,” Common said. “With the T-shirts, we wanted to make it progressive also, but still also make it retro. We were going off of the legacy of Microsoft but also the legacy of hip-hop and where I come from.”
Though the public didn’t know Common until his debut album “Can I borrow a Dollar?” in 1992, the artist said the 1980s influenced his style and who he is today.
“The 80s were cool, too. All that stuff crossed over to whatever color you were, whether you were poor or rich,” he said.
With the vintage trend sweeping MAGIC and other fashion conventions, Bynoe said the Softwear designs fit right in.
“The response has been amazing. At first people are like ‘Wow, I never expected that’ which is kind of the response we wanted to get,” he said. “People really think it’s something different, something fresh, something unique and that’s what we were going for.”