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Pop’s Raps: The Wit & Wisdom of Lonnie Lynn, Sr.

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I didn’t have children the first time I heard Common’s father Lonnie Lynn, Sr. joke about breaking into the studio to lay down his first “Pop’s Rap” in 1994. His warm, leathery vocals anchored the album in a way I hadn’t heard before, but was so familiar. Because it reminded me of my own father and his casual lecture style trying to keep me on my path. My dad didn’t rhyme his words but jazz was definitely the backdrop to many of his Saturday morning lessons. It’s why listening to Mr. Lynn was always something I looked forward to on Common’s albums.  He was funny but focused. Stern yet approachable.

As a father now with two children, his passing in 2014 cast an uncomfortable light on my own father’s mortality. While I am lucky to still have him, it forced me to confront that he will not be here someday. I’d projected so much into this elder who embraced hip-hop and his paternal presence as a bridge between the generations.

So you can imagine how happy I was to find out that Pop was back for “Little Chicago Boy” on Common’s new album Black America Again.

“It’s another song that’s very close to my heart and spirit,” Common says in commentary on Spotify. “It’s based on my father Lonnie “Pops” Lynn who would end off all my albums with a spoken word piece, ever since my second album. He passed in 2014, September. So when Karriem [Riggins] made this music I just felt the spirt with it that felt close to me. It felt emotional so I started to write about my dad. It just came out “how should I begin? This is the story of a boy named Lonnie Lynn. This is his autobiography in a way. I’m talking about my dad but talking about it from my perspective.”

Common is joined by gospel singer Tasha Cobbs who provides a swaying robe feel without taking the record into sanctified self righteousness. But what makes the song more than a tribute is the return of Pops from the spiritual plane to lay some knowledge on us one last time.

“I was blessed to have some recordings of my father that I never used on any album that he recorded the year he passed,” Common reveals. “I put those on there too so he could still have the outro to the album as we pay homage to him.”

To celebrate the release of Black America Again and the return of Pops Lynn we run down all of his inspiring contributions to Common’s albums.

1.”Pop’s Rap Part 1” prod by NO I.D. from Resurrection (1994)

You gonna play the music or you just want me to rap?” he asks before jumping into the beat. In this first installment Pop is loose and free flowing over an upbeat piano as he recalls his b-ball playing days in Chicago. Lynn was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks in the 12th round of the 1966 NBA draft and later played one season for the Pittsburgh Pipers of the ABA.

Talk about being basketball playing guys. Now everybody is playing basketball. Don’t make an old man get his shoes out… these youngsters talking about they out of breath.” Pop asks the question about peace while inquiring about the gang bangers in the hood. “They using words like ’truce’ I love to hear that.’ Over twenty years later his words are still relevant as ever.

2. “Pop’s Rap 2, Fatherhood” prod by Karriem Riggins from One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997)

For part two Pop jokes about climbing in the window of the studio to lay down some thoughts about fatherhood over Riggins’ reflective piano and upright bass. “I understand I’m fitting to be a grandfather, and I’m so proud,” he says referencing Com’s daughter, who he spoke about at length throughout this album.

Not going to give him any direction because it will come to you like it came to me. God loaned you to us, it’s God’s spirit we the physical parents, ya know. I’m not gonna give you know directions…when we talk about the life and education of one Lonnie Lynn I was the one who got taught.

He confesses that when his basketball career was over he began indulging his vices and young Common called him out on his bullshit from across a breakfast table. “Just the eyes of a babe looking at me…I had to thank the almighty for the strength he gave me through you.

3. Pop’s Rap 3, “All My Children” prod by Karriem Riggins from Like Water For Chocolate (2000)

This post-Y2K victory lap is one of the best in the series. Pops is full of glee at not having to sneak into the studio this time, being a “Special guest by special request.” A mellow Rhodes, vibraphone and trumpet cluster replace the piano as a backdrop as Pop speaks on the extended family that he as gained through music, the fans and the artists.

To my children running around here screaming how nice is they ice that they’ve already paid for twice. What karat is they gold? That was yours before they got you in the hole for that cruise in 1629. Buy some land.” He closes out tipping his hat to everyone in the game that he loves and respects like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Erykah Badu, De La Soul, Lauryn Hill, The Roots and Common’s band A Black Girl Named Becky.

4. “Heaven Somewhere” (aka Pops rap 4)  produced by Pino Palladino, James Poyser & Questlove from Electric Circus

While this track did close out Electric Circus, it wasn’t the usual stand-alone performance from Pop. Instead Mr. Lynn was part of an ensemble supporting cast that included CeeLo, Bilal, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Mary J. Blige. With Common coming to grips with a friend who was going away “For many years” they all begin to reflect on what Heaven is to them. While Pops’ soliloquy (at the 8:35 mark) is the most brief of them all, it was easily the most poignant and down to earth: “Heaven? Heaven is being Pops. Heaven is spending a day with the grand children.Listening to their voices and laugh to them play.And then at the end of the day we hug, we kiss, and slowly they walk away.And then suddenly they turn and rush back to me and hug me around the knees. Yeah…that’s heaven to me.”

5. It’s Your World (1&2) produced by J Dilla, James Poyser and Karriem Riggins from Be (2005)

Common’s somber love letter to his hometown is told through two lenses in as many parts. The reflection on dreams deferred is punctuated by school children sharing what they want to be in life and Pops giving his poetic interpretation of the album’s title, answering the existential question of what it means to be…

Be the owner of more land than is set aside for wild life…Be not foolish as temporary king of the mountain top…Be a brilliant soul, sparkling in the galaxy while walking on earth…

6. “Pops Belief” produced by NO.ID. from The Dreamer, The Believer (2011)

Common’s Finding Forever (2007) and Universal Mind Control (2008) were not blessed with Pops’ presence but he did return in 2011 to bookend The Dreamer, The Believer with legendary poet Maya Angelou. As a reunion with producer NO I.D. the album flaunted a more rugged sound than the previous two, so Pops’ return was timely and fitting. “Pops Belief” returned to the stand-alone format, but his vocals had a distant, even hollow texture to them. Like he was speaking through a bullhorn to an encampment of freedom fighters huddled in the woods. But he was no less poetic in his take on what it means to dream…and believe.

We inherit the power to turn nightmares into dreams
For those of us who come from less than enviable circumstances
Dreams, good dreams, sweet dreams, dreams come true
Truthful dreams, truthful dreams become life
Life becomes belief, belief becomes live!
Live the life you believe

7. “Little Chicago Boy” produced by Karriem Riggins from Black America Again (2016)

Common’s emotional telling of his father’s life story is filled with humor and gratitude. He recounts the time he was gifted “The Message” as a child and then returning the favor with Air Jordans from MJ himself. After chronicling his father’s fight with Cancer he ends with a simple prayer. Our Father, take care of my father/As far as he went, may I go farther/ May our dreams and legacies live through our children
Though I can’t touch him, I can still feel him.” So it was almost divine intervention that the words he found from his father would speak to his existence in another plane and what is required to enter the Kingdom of God.
I am boundless spiritual energy, I want to talk about the moral necessities of human justice. The power and the action of God given dignity. One cannot enter the gate if you hate.

Rest in power Lonnie “Pops” Lynn.

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