A Conversation with Common

All photos courtesy of Marguerite Tucker

When Common stopped by AU, we got the opportunity to talk to him about activism, Noname, and believing in yourself–all while he was sippin’ on a green smoothie. Here is the exclusive WVAU/The Blackprint interview:

Skylar: So what are you listening to right now?

Common: I‰’ve been listening to the new Kendrick Lamar song- actually, two of them. But I really listen to a lot of John Coltrane, I [also] like Anderson .Paak. I go from classics to Solange. Kendrick is the freshest. Kendrick and Chance are the new artists that I really like.

Lauren: How did you know that music would be your career?

Common: I really knew that it was something that I love to do. I kept thinking, “how can I make this a career?‰” Initially, I was just like “I love this! I love this!‰” I felt so much passion towards it all the time and wanted to do it all the time. Certain artists inspired me enough to be an artist myself. I [also] saw the reaction to what I would write, and what I did as a musician. I had not only a passion for it, but an ability to grow and be great at it at some point.

I guess to contrast that, I tried to play piano and I wasn‰’t good at it. I knew that wasn‰’t my thing. [With] things you are passionate about, you‰’re not always going to start out great. Sometimes I listen to my old material, and I‰’m like “damn‰” there were definitely things I could improve on. You kind of get this intuition that lets you know “I‰’m passionate about it, and I‰’m willing to work to be great at it, and I have the capacity to be great at this.”

Calkie: Many of the rising stars in rap right now are from Chicago. Where do you see the next generation of Chicago hip hop heading?

Common: I think Chicago hip hop culture is always progressive. For me, it‰’s always authentic and progressive- from the first days of it, to now, where you have variety. You have Chance, Noname, Sir the Baptist, G Herbo, and Lil Bibby. These artists show the diversity of what Chicago is. I think [Chicago] artists always brought that to the table. When I came out, you had Twista, the group Do or Die, Lupe. When Lupe was out, he was being Lupe, Kanye [too]. Nobody could say “oh they sound exactly the same.” You can hear that Chance is being himself. He might be inspired by [others], but he‰’s being himself. That‰’s one thing you get out of Chicago artists. Noname–she don‰’t sound like anybody.

Common is introduced by Deputy Director of Logistics Management, Aaliyah Lambert (Marguerite Tucker/shotbyencore).

Taryn: What advice do you have for students trying to pair arts and activism?

Common: The best advice is to identify things that you are passionate about. Make it part of your daily activity. I had to learn that myself. I work in music everyday, right? I work on my music everyday. I work on my acting everyday. Well if I‰’m going to make a declaration that I‰’m an activist or even if I just stumbled into being an activist, you have to work at that daily. You have to identify those things that you are passionate about changing. It doesn‰’t have to be everything. You may specifically go to a certain group and say “this is what I want to support.”You will identify a way to make a change. That happens with your talents, your gifts, your creativity, and putting that into daily activity.

Skylar: Throughout your music, you‰’ve had a few reoccurring themes. Some of the major ones being faith, women, and social consciousness. How have each of those themes influenced your life?

Common: I think it begins with faith. My faith in god and my relationship with the creator, is what makes me look at things from a creative space in my life and say, “What am I doing to be purposeful? What am I doing to uplift others? What am I doing to love myself and love others and represent God the way I want to?‰” That doesn‰’t mean I‰’m perfect, because I recognize that I‰’m not. It starts with faith- that‰’s the foundation.

If you have faith and you practice it, you‰’re going to treat women with respect, you‰’re going to treat everybody with respect. I definitely express that in my music. But that also comes from my relationship with my mother and my grandmother, and how I look at human beings, to be honest. Nobody should be treated less than [anyone else]. Because I grew up having the ability and blessing to be able to express myself, I ain‰’t afraid to do a love song.

The church I grew up going to, it was unapologetically black, unashamedly Christian. For me, it‰’s always been about “how could you be who you are?‰” and my environment helped that. [With] my boys who I was around growing up, we couldn‰’t be faking, trying to hide under something. If you were doing something wrong, then we would call you out. If you were doing something goofy, we were gonna call you out. But it‰’s all love. That allowed me to be in the position to talk about that.

I talk about social things because I care about people. No matter what situation I can rise to, if I can see that people as a whole and that certain pockets of society is not getting justice, equality, or resources, I feel like I have to talk about it. That‰’s what I have a microphone for.

Common speaks in Bender Arena on April 5 (Marguerite Tucker/shotbyencore).

Lauren: Who are some of the wokest people you know?

Common: I have several friends [who are woke]. One is my good friend named Shareef, he is an awakened brother. Ava DuVernay is awakened. My team here- they are all awake. I do my best to surround myself with people [who care]. We don‰’t all have to spit the laws of certain books, you don‰’t have to know everything intellectually- though you have to know some things. But it‰’s about an emotional intelligence, a spiritual intelligence, and intention that I do my best to surround myself with.

I just recently visited four prisons in California and I met some of the most awakened individuals I have ever met in my life–and it awakened me more. I‰’ve been in the presence of the former president, the first lady–I‰’ve even been in the presence of Nelson Mandela, and that‰’s been a blessing. But, I feel like I met the most awakened individuals in a prison. So I think if you look, you can find people that are woke all over and you might not even know what package it‰’s coming in.