With a career spanning over two decades, Common has earned a bevy accolades for his impressive catalog musical work in hip-hop and in film. But one thing the rapper has longed to do in his career is to collaborate with the New York Times in some capacity, and he finally achieved that feat on Tuesday night (Feb. 13) when he sat down for his first New York Times “TimesTalks” discussion panel.
New York’s Merkin Concert Hall opened its door on Tuesday to a group journalists, media and Common devotees as they gathered to hear the celebrated rapper comb through his storied career. He spoke with New York Times’ National Editor Marc Lacey about his humble beginnings, his career, and his activism.
Here are six takeaways from Common’s “TimesTalks” panel discussion.
Common initially hid his rap talents from his mother, who wasn’t too fond the genre.
For Common, growing up with a teacher as a parent came with its pros and cons. As long as he received good grades in school, he was afforded privileges such as hanging out with friends and watching TV, but if he did poorly in school, his privileges were taken away. Because this, Common excelled academically and took up writing as a hobby to sharpen his pen game but hid his new hobby from his mother.
After being fered a record deal during his stint at Florida A&M University, Common delivered the good news to his mother who told him to shut down the fer and continue his studies. “Basically, she was like ‘You better stay your ass in school and finish school,” he recalled. But she ultimately agreed to let him pursue his dreams and well, the rest is history.
He wants to use his music to uplift people, not perpetuate hate.
One Common’s most poignant, politically-charged ferings to date was his 2016 album Black America Again, in which the rapper tackled a multitude sensitive topics directly affecting the African-American community — such as racism and police brutality — at a time where tensions were rising and the world was divided as a result the presidential election.
When asked whether his upcoming music will focus on President Trump, Common told Lacey he doesn’t want to feed into negative energy, instead, create music that promotes positivity. Common shared an extended rap verse he wrote in addition to the verse featured on Andra Day’s “Stand Up For Something.”
“These days we dance between love and hate/ Don’t know the date so we stay awake/ A knee we take for our soul’s sake/ New victory f old faith,” he rapped. “A president that trolls with hate/ He don’t control our faith because God is great.”
Black Panther is a life-changing moment for the black community, especially young kids.
The hotly-anticipated Black Panther film is shaping up to be one the year’s biggest film releases, thanks largely to its lead – a black superhero (played by Chadwick Boseman) – and the all-black supporting cast. Ahead the movie’s release, it was reported that Black Panther had broken presale records, proving just how big a cultural impact the upcoming film will have on fans.
Common, who has yet to see the movie, discussed the importance Black Panther, especially in the divisive climate we live in today. “It’s one the most monumental times we’ve had in film for a world to see superheroes, black superheroes, fighting to save the world, fighting to save humanity. It’s the things we’ve always seen but we never see ourselves doing it and sometimes until you see yourself doing it, you don’t believe you can do it.”
He added that the excitement fans are feeling over the movie was similar to the feeling many had when Barack Obama took fice in 2008. “We need the black superheroes and “sheroes” so the world knows that we are heroes,” he said.
Common got emotional after seeing how successful his 1000 jobs initiative was.
Chicago has always gotten a bad rap in media for the violence its residents experience daily. In an effort to combat violence and provide the youth with job opportunities, Common joined a jobs initiative to help bring 1000 jobs to the city, as well as other cities across the states.
The residents were able to participate in pressional development courses and were also given tips on the appropriate attire for interviews. “That thing brought tears to my eyes because I was like, 'Man, this really worked,'” he told the crowd. “And I’m not saying all their troubles were gone, but just the fact that they had these opportunities and jobs.”
If he had to produce a film on any figure, he’d choose Assata Shakur.
There are several different accounts what transpired when Assata Shakur was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973, but Common just wants to uncover the truth. Common praised Shakur as “one my heroes” and said that her story is too powerful to not want to delve further into.
“Her book changed my life and her story has always inspired me and I would love to do a film about Assata Shakur because she is a hero in my book,” he said. “She is someone who is a peaceful and calm soul, but is being projected as this ‘big killer Black Panther’ and that’s not her.”
He’s not a fan the term “Chiraq.”
Common admitted that when he heard young Chicago rappers using the term in the lyrics, he didn’t initially have a problem. After realizing it evokes a negative connotation, he opted against promoting the term and refused to watch Spike Lee’s 2015 film the same name despite Lee being one his heroes.
Watch Common's “TimesTalks” discussion below.