Common talks 'Selma,' God, and the evolution of hip-hop

Common Selma Shoot 1

Some have wondered aloud as to why more prominent hip-hop artists aren’t making music “of the times,” and reflecting the social tensions and current political climate. While hip-hop artists like J. Cole and Killer Mike have been acting in the national conversation regarding Ferguson, Common says that too many people aren’t paying attention to the full spectrum of hip-hop artists offering different perspectives.

“Music [offers] different forms of expression,” he says. “Everybody has their interpretation of what music is fresh to them and they have their taste in what they’re gonna listen to. I think hip-hop specifically and music in general, it allows the artists to express themselves. If somebody wants to do the [Bobby Shmurda], then that’s what they should do. It’s hard for me to tell somebody ‘You should rap like this or do a song like this.’ I think the important thing to acknowledge is that it’s not only that music. It’s also music that offers other things. We got a song at the end of Selma called ‘Glory,’ myself and John Legend, and it’s about this film and what took place in Selma but also what’s going on now. And it’s about the fight — and winning the fight.

“The fight isn’t a race thing.The fight is overcoming injustice and letting love prevail and fighting for peace. So music does exist like that. Other artists have a lot to say. That’s why I don’t focus on one aspect. People are going to be who they are. [Just] present the whole spectrum.”

As a hip-hop elder these days, Common believes that it’s on the veterans in the game to be honest with young people — as opposed to lecturing from some self-righteous moral high ground. He lost his dad, Lonnie Lynn Sr., in September 2014, and he leans on the elder Lynn’s example when offering mentorship.

“One thing my father did that I really loved was my father always let me know his flaws. He never acted as the perfect human being,” Common explains. “I think it’s important for me, if I’m going to get the younger generation to understand, then I also have to present the truth. I’m not a perfect human being, but I also have to present what I know to be integrity in music, to be creative — music that has substance. I gotta present the truth. To me, with hip-hop, if you stay in tune with the people and really connected with the people, you’ll really be able to align yourself with what’s going on in hip-hop. If I do that, I can always offer some type of leadership. Sometimes leadership is listening. It doesn’t always mean that I got the answers. Some of it is just … showing you care because I don’t have all the answers. But I will offer everything I do have.”

With all of the battles to fight in this world, Common believes that society could benefit from a spiritual refocusing. Citing what he’s seen at his daughter’s Christian school and the benefits of meditation, Common wants humanity to connect with something larger than itself.

“I would like to see spirituality valued more,” he says. “I would like to see schools not be afraid to talk about God. I would like to see the creator be put more into the families and communities in whatever way we can get spirituality there. I’m a believer that if you believe in a higher power and you work to act toward that, it will direct your life in a right direction. You will have morals and values to live by and a compass, as they say. And a conscience about what you’re doing. Because if you’re really believing in a higher power, you’ll know that higher power is in each and every individual.”

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