This was before he became an emerging leading man whose charisma filled the screen in films such as Smokin' Aces, American Gangster, Terminator Salvation and the recent Just Wright. This was before he became a philanthropist whose mission was to inspire today's young people to boldly climb the apex of their potential. This was when he could actually walk into a radio station, and if the DJ liked his song, get his record played without the big push of a major label. This is Lonnie Rashid Lynn. From the Southside of Chicago, I might add. The man who would become known to the world as Common has been blessed with a bountiful career in an industry that feasts on the forgettable tastes of one-hit wonders.
Whether he was taking a whole sect of artists to task for taking his beloved hip-hop in a wayward direction or wearing crochet hats and chilling with beautiful women while rapping over eclectic melodies--Common has always stayed true to himself. As we rapidly move through our Lord's year of 2010, the thriving artist has two projects on the horizon: a TV series in development for AMC titled Hell on Wheels and his long-awaited next album, The Believer. The latter looks to link Common back up with his friend and frequent collaborator, Kanye West. The two artists had to take a creative break during Common's 2008 album, Universal Mind Control, because of schedule conflicts.
But in the midst of all his professional success, Common has not forgotten about his hometown of Chicago. The city has been a staple on news networks this summer because of the alarming murders of young people in the city. With his foundation, Common Ground, and help from fellow Chicago luminaries such as Dwyane Wade, Common looks to offer an outstretched hand to preserve the forsaken members of Generation Y-- before it's too late.
Taking time to talk after a performance in Columbia, MD, Common waxed poetically about a plethora of topics. But we all know that the conversation would eventually make its way back to H.E.R.
You've been in hip-hop for nearly 20. As an active participant and observer, how has the culture shifted, changed and evolved?
Well, I definitely feel it has become more of a powerful force as far as influence, viability and marketability. [Hip- Hop] started as us expressing ourselves in the parks, in basements and in the clubs. But then it became where hip-hop is being used in commercials and having an influence on the way people walk and talk--I think that's the really positive thing. I think it has actually provided an outlet for many young people to express who they are. That's where I found my voice, in hip-hop. Like, that's where I found out who I wanted to be and who I am. In the same context, it's become such a big force and a powerful force that it has maybe lost some of the pure aspects, too. Not with every artist, but in some ways because it is so corporate run.
You're an artist who is known to make classic material. Can you talk a little about the process that goes into creating your music and picking and choosing the final beats and songs that make your album?
Well, first I get a title for the album, which gives me a direction and a theme to go with. But then the album always turns out to be something that elevates beyond even what I thought it would be. I also like to take the best of producers--meaning someone I vibe with whose stellar at what they do. If I want to make a classic album, I need to be working with someone that's going to make classic material and also bring out the classic aspect of me.
It seems that you make it a point to promote the uplifting of women in your music--specifically African-American women. Does the misogyny in music ever bother you at times?
I think that [misogyny] existed in the world before [hip-hop]. Unfortunately, there are people who haven't been raised to know how to treat women with respect. [Misogyny is] all some people know, in a way. That's what they've been accustomed to and that's what they've been exposed to. I can't fault our generation, or hip-hop, for being the culprit of that. It's not only a black thing; if you look at it, you see it in a lot of cultures. But that's something we have to work on. And I make it a point to say that, in hip-hop, you don't have only that. You do have artists like Dead Prez, Mos Def, Talib Kweli; people that respect women in their raps. So, it does exist.
You've recently switched your gears towards acting, and have been very successful at it. Can you talk a little about when you caught the acting bug and what makes you decide to commit to an acting project?
I got hit with the desire to act around 2000. I felt like I wanted to do something else in a creative way. I started taking acting classes and I was like...'man this is it.' I felt like I was engaging in a new aspect and discovering a new career; I was very enthused about it. From taking classes and going out and auditioning, I decided to keep pursuing it. It became something that I just wanted to do--to let that be the next chapter in my career.
One thing that I just enjoy and love about it is that it's just a constant learning process. When you take on roles, you're taking on becoming other people. If I'm playing a journalist, I really would shadow you and learn what it's like to be a writer. And at the same token, that gives me a better understanding of people. So, I definitely see [acting] in my future--as far as my career goes.
Can you talk a little about the new AMC project you are attached to star in, Hell on Wheels?
Yeah man...I'm very excited about it. It's a period piece that takes place in 1865, dealing with the building of the transcontinental railroad. The script that I read is about the conflicts of the different characters, and my character is a freed slave who is coming in to work on the railroad. Being a black man in that environment and in those conditions, not being subjected to the way slaves were treated...he really establishes himself as a leader. At the same token, [my character is] dealing with trying survive in that time period. Aside from my character, it's also conflict about the Native Americans and how they felt towards white men, and white people going against each other. It's a really strong script and I'm excited about the project.
Can you also talk about your new album in the works, The Believer?
I named the album The Believer because I feel like my career has been all about believing in myself. I think as human beings, if we apply that, we can achieve what we want to achieve. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I've been able to practice it everyday, but I strive to. If true belief is there, man, the world is yours. The album itself is really going to be a hip-hop uplifting album--culturally relevant, inspirational, hardcore hip-hop. In the spirit of KRS-One, Rakim, Nas, Kanye--cats that bring what really means something to people's lives.
As an MC who proudly wears your hometown of Chicago on your sleeve, I know it must bother you to so often hear about the murder of young people going on in the city this summer. Is there anything you have planned to do, to personally lend a hand to the epidemic that is taking place?
It's sad what's going on, because we just want to stop it. You know--what we can do to stop it? I understand that it's something that's been going on in our culture for years. But now it's tougher on the young people because they really don't have anything upholding them; they don't have the opportunities to go out and just have some activities and something productive for them to do. And then being put in situations where you don't have parents, so they don't have any guidance.
I think that's where the problem lies, but the solution is taking the village and really putting together the abilities to reach the young people. From my experiences in talking to them, they just want things to do--whether it's jobs or whether it's, like, activities. With Common Ground, we just started this program in Chicago with young people. They can take different courses and do different activities, whether it's cooking or whether it's creative arts. It can also be academic things. That's what we're doing right now. But there's more to do, too. It starts with the way we're going to treat our young people--our children. Some children don't have parents around, so we have to reach out and say something to them that's going to be inspiring. Something that can be said that can spark their lives...you know?
For more on Common and his foundation, visit www.commongroundfoundation.org.