Brooklyn label Nature Sounds reissued Common’s 1992 debut album, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, for this year’s Record Store Day, but last week’s most intriguing new Common release came out on an entirely different label and isn’t in brick-and-mortar stores at all yet. Last Wednesday, local DJ and record collector Marc Davis announced that his microlabel Black Pegasus was putting out a seven-inch of two previously unissued recordings from Common’s Can I Borrow a Dollar? sessions: “U.A.C. Freestyle” and an alternate take of album cut “Charms Alarm.”
This seven-inch is par for the course for Davis—with Black Pegasus, he’s been bringing lost, rare, and unreleased recordings to light since 2010. He’s issued house, disco, boogie, and rap, and I especially admire the work he’s done with Chicago hip-hop. He’s shared golden-age recordings by local acts that never saw the light of day, providing crucial documentation of a largely forgotten early scene. I learned about the label in 2014, when I found a Black Pegasus copy of East of the Rock‘s Galaxy Rays EP, which only existed as an early-90s test pressing before Davis put it on wax in 2010.
Davis’s purview extends beyond Chicago, and he’s also excavated rare recordings by Tim Dog and Ultramagnetic MC’s, as part of a loosely defined series he calls “holy grail” releases. His new Common release certainly belongs in that category, but it’s also the first in a seven-inch series called Seven Sense—the name riffs on Common’s original stage name (Common Sense) and on 87th Street, where Davis and Common grew up. Davis plans to continue the Seven Sense series with more previously unreleased recording by Common-affiliated acts, including world-class producer No I.D., All Natural beat maker Dug Infinite, and Main Frame, the group Common shouts out at the end of the career-defining 1994 single “I Used to Love H.E.R.”
Like most of Black Pegasus’s releases, the new Common seven-inch is available only on vinyl—he has no plans sell it digitally or stream it, though someone who buys the record is bound to upload the music somewhere. Black Pegasus isn’t well-known, but the people who follow its releases follow them closely—Davis is fielding calls from around the world from people who want to stock the Common seven-inch. He’s selling it for $40 on Big Cartel, and though he won’t say how many copies he’s pressed, he figures they’ll all be gone within the next week. He has no plans to re-release it. I made sure to order a copy as soon as I saw Tone B. Nimble of All Natural post a photo of the seven-inch on Instagram last week.
On Tuesday I called Davis to talk about Black Pegasus, Common, and the Seven Sense series. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Leor Galil: How long has the seven-inch been in the works?
Marc Davis: I’ve actually held onto that record for about 25 years. I grew up with Common and No I.D., those were my childhood friends. Me and Common been on since second grade—we played little league basketball together. Our friendship is really beyond music.
When he was working on his first album with No I.D., I went to the studio and they were recording what was to be Can I Borrow a Dollar? When you’re recording, some songs just don’t make the cutting block, and there were two tracks that didn’t. He went back in to record the album again, and [this version of] “Charms Alarm” and “U.A.C. Freestyle” didn’t make it, for whatever reason. I always thought they were great songs, and I just held on to them—on the cassette tapes—for 25, 26 years. I’ve been sitting on the music.
A lot of the records I had been putting out were in that lane already—rare, unearthed records. I’d come up with a concept of doing a subsidiary of Black Pegasus, which was gonna be called the Seven Sense series, which is a lot of unreleased Common demos and Common-affiliated demos. At the time, he was working with No I.D., of course, and Twilite Tone—and Twilite Tone had a situation with these guys called the Late Show, so I have those demos as well. I have unreleased No I.D. demos, when No I.D. put his first album out with Dug Infinite—I have the Dug Infinite stuff. There’s a nice catalog of music that I have access to.
Common, he’s behind this with us, and pushing this with us, to release this to the public. My motto is, “The first time you hear music, it’s new music.” It doesn’t matter when it was created.
What got you interested in putting out material that’s rare or completely unheard? That East of the Rock Galaxy Rays EP is great—I remember finding that and thinking, ‘This is incredible.’ What got you started?
I was like a big sponge growing up. My passion for the music, my passion for recording collecting, my passion for DJing, my personal passion for discovering new music that I was never familiar with . . . I noticed other people that feel the same way. Just like you said yourself, when you heard the Galaxy Rays EP, that’s how I felt when I heard it the first time—I fell in love with the record. It just so happens, two of the members, I know those guys personally.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to DJ and travel abroad and go to different countries in Europe—from Sweden to the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands. There are other people out there and around the world who feel the same way about the music; they just had the same passion. And so they enjoy it, I enjoy it—so why not put it out to the public? You know, people collect comic books and rare toys, and so there are people that collect rare records and things of that nature. It’s just part of my fuel that pushes the machine of my ambition.
Tell me about that period when you started soaking up all this music in the late 80s and early 90s—all the stuff that, in a lot of cases, never saw the light of day.
In the late 80s, I was a collector of early house-music stuff. From the Ron Hardy tapes to the Frankie Knuckles tapes, all the way to Lee Collins tapes, to getting stuff out of New York, which was the Kool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout tapes. I noticed certain things on those tapes were either rare 12-inches or acetates, and those things didn’t see the light of day—some of those releases. So I just held on to those tapes.
Being from Chicago, we’re known for house music, so I was part of that. But then when the hip-hop movement came in, I became part of that. I’m hanging out with guys that are DJing disco and stuff, but then I’m hanging out with guys who were into the hip-hop stuff. And in certain circles, that’s forbidden—you have to chose a side. But I was in both worlds at the same time. I feel proud about that, and I think that’s one of the things that distinguishes my label, Black Pegasus, from a lot of other labels. There’s some other hip-hop labels that are probably ten times better than my label, but they don’t drop rare hip-hop joints and rare disco, boogie.
I’m into Afrobeat, jazz, fusion, breakbeats. I love it all. If it’s good music, it’s good music, and I’m into what sounds good. I just happen to enjoy some of the rare stuff. There’s so much undiscovered music that exists in the world.
You’ve also been documenting a period of Chicago hip-hop that isn’t particularly well documented. What does it mean for you to surface this music that hadn’t been available?
I feel like a scavenger hunter. Seriously, I feel like Indiana Jones or something—in music. I don’t know, it’s just fun. I love that. I love the whole aspect of getting the audio, tweaking it, and EQing it. Now I’m taking camera guys to document that experience. The finished product is awesome, but I like the small steps to get to this part. Even the small snags that I run into—something’s not right, I have to go fix it—it lets you know that the job is not that easy.
Back to the Common seven-inch—how many copies are available? I know it’s available on Big Cartel, but is it going to be available in record stores?
A lot of the local record stores are reaching out right now, so it’ll probably be in Dusty Groove, Shuga Records, 606 Records. But I’m literally getting calls from Japan, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, so it’ll definitely be in those stores. I would say in the next week or so, this record will probably be completely sold out, because it’s moving.