In a recent interview with the New York Times for their TimesTalks segment, Chi-Town emcee Common dropped insight surrounding topics such as his hip-hop career, influence on young black leadership, and hip-hop’s ability to encourage social change.
Common is recognized as a Grammy award-winning musician who is a polished artist with soulful poetry who is groomed in sound activism for communal needs. Moderated by New York Times National Editor, Marc Lacey, the two embark on into a dialogue that revolves around social equality and race relations.
Lacey recalled Common’s Oscar speech when “Glory” won the award best song and pointed out his commentary regarding social equality and queried the rapper’s deed about being a socially conscious rapper.
“My struggle is the same struggle as that kid from the south side of Chicago which is where I’m from,” says Common. “When I first started rapping, its like you know you rapping about yourself, how dope you are…but then after a while, you’re like wow, after you start telling personal stories people start saying man, ‘your stories affected me.’ Your music has a bigger effect that just you.”
In light of the current Hollywood phenomenon where power players are being exposed for their acts of sexual misconduct, Lacey asked Common about hip-hop’s role in the cultural catastrophe:
“Hip-hop I don’t want to act like hip-hop is the cause of the culture. The culture of women being put in a second class is a part of American culture,” the rapper clarifies. “We’ve been a reflection of that meaning you hear hip-hop artists who are human beings that came from neighborhoods where that culture is accepted…”
On rapping about Trump:
“I’m not gonna go and put my energy towards that. It’s more about uplifting.”
When asked about his perception of the current state of hip-hop, the Finding Forever emcee finds new artists expressing their own versions of truth and also senses a strong desire for simply stardom by most. The focal point for stardom plays a role in the faint creativity found in the sounds of modern day hip-hop artists, Common explains:
“I think the younger artists are speaking their truth and speaking from the creative place that they are, where they are in their lives. I don’t feel that the creativity is as innovative as when hip-hop initially started…,” said Common. He goes on to state how the hip-hop genre changed once corporations poked into it pushing a mentality where aspiring artists do not “have the desire to be an artist, they might just want to be a superstar or they may just say ‘man, I just want to take care of my family.’ That doesn’t necessarily raise the level of the art.”
He doesn’t knock new artists for thinking this way, he just doesn’t find the music to be unique. He gave kudos to artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Noname, and even SZA-who Common says is “hip-hop in her own way,” for being modern-day acts that are conventional with their works.
“Its a lot of artists out there that are still innovative, but the music overall doesn’t have the creativity and purity that hip-hop had in the 90’s and 2000’s…”
This past week, the official portrait of Michelle Obama for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery by Baltimore artist Amy Sherald was revealed and ended up triggering an uproar of admiration from the masses. POTUS 44, Barack Obama‘s portrait was also revealed, crafted by notable portrait painter Kehinde Wiley. “It’s just the royalty that Michelle Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and our President Barack Obama, the royalty that they are came out in those portraits,” Common describes the paintings. “When you see them it just reminds you of the light that we have as human beings.”
Common’s perspective on matters surrounding hip-hop and social issues is one that should be taken into consideration by hip-hop fans reigning from all backgrounds, simply due to his veteran status in the culture which is guarded by potent experience and solidity. For the past ten years, the Chicago based legend has been committed to helping inner city youth reach their highest potential through the mold of his foundation, Common Ground.
Watch Common’s Q&A with Marc Lacey for TimesTalks, below.