Common, the hip-hop artist from Chicago, has been on the rap scene since the early-1990s. He branched into acting in the 2000s, and he recently started the Common Ground Foundation, a non-profit that aims to empower underprivileged young pepole through creative arts, mentoring, and educational opportunities.
He’s also working with Allstate on a scholarship program for students at historically black colleges.
Common joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to talk about his upcoming album, his role in hip hop, and his hometown of Chicago.
Interview Highlights: Common
On his reasons for starting the Common Ground Foundation
“Well my thinking is, growing up, my friends that I grew up around, some of them didn't have what I had. I had a mother who was very loving and an educator who made sure I did well in school and worked hard so that I could go to school. Well unfortunately, some of my friends didn't have a father or a mother that was there for several reasons. And I always looked at that and said, ‘Man, I want to help people who don't have.’ Because these are people that I saw that are good people that I cared about, and they just didn't have some of, you know, just the natural blessings that human beings deserve.”
On whether he sees himself as an “elder statesman” within hip-hop culture
“I feel like my experiences and my opportunities are the things that I want to bring to our youth and say, 'Hey y'all, I've been able to achieve some of these things and I'm still striving to grow and do even greater things, but I wanted you all to know that you have the opportunity to achieve this and more.' And though, you know, I feel like I'm still a child in certain manners as far as just growing and learning more about art, and music, and life and culture, I still have some ways that are childish. Though I take on the responsibilities of a man and leader in life, I still know there's room to grow.”
On his most recent music project
“...Things have grown. It's an album now, and it's called ‘A Bigger Picture Called Free’... It's a social, political piece of art. It's just so many things, topics, and issues that I'm talking about, and it's music. And I'm really excited about it.”
On how he sees the influence of his art and his role in the African-American community
“I think art is definitely something that helps change the perspective and inspire people to movement. I think the movement right now is about Black people being acknowledged, being respected and valued in this country. You know, with the music that myself and other artists that choose that purpose, I think it's really just to raise the consciousness of people and say, ‘Hey, we're people here that are created from the same God that you're created from, that love like you love, and want to enjoy our children, and want to laugh, and we cry.’ We're human beings. I know we've been depicted in media as other things, but don’t forget we are human beings.”
On critics opposing his 2011 White House visit, citing his song lyrics in support of Assata Shakur
“I will never condone or support the killing of any human beings — no police officers, no Black people, no White people, no Asian. I don't… that's not what I'm about. I'm not about that. I'm about bringing love and life, and I wrote that song because when I read her autobiography, I believed that she was innocent. I believed her. And, let's face it, there's people that we know in our judicial system that have been innocent that have been accused of crimes that they didn't commit. And though she was a Black Panther, that didn't necessarily make her a murderer, you know.”
On whether joy and beauty should replace "gratuitous violence and misogyny" in hip-hop
“I think the joy and the beauty is very necessary in hip-hop also. But it would be — I would be going against what art, and music, and even the First Amendment is to — for me to say that we shouldn't express ourselves, people shouldn't be able to speak and say they like. But I do believe in hip-hop culture. It would be great to have a balance because hip-hop culture is balanced. It's love, and it's freedom and it's peace. But it's also some pain, and it's some struggle. And it's also fun and parties. You know, it's so many aspects.
I think it's more about the balance than it is just taking out. You just don't want to remove people's voices and say, ‘Well you shouldn't rap about these things,’ if that's their way of expressing it and getting it out because a lot of people are going through things that we may not be able to relate to. Or some people in society can't relate to, but it's still important that their voices be heard.”