Rapper Common's full resume has some pretty interesting past professions. He’s been a killer, a mob enforcer, a basketball player, the voice of AI, a drama teacher, an FBI agent and a civil rights leader. At least, he’s played all of them on TV.
The fact of the matter is, Common isn’t any of these things. Born Lonnie Lynn, the Chicago rapper started his career as a musician when hip-hop was still a young genre. Today, he’s just as well-known for his acting credits.
With a creative career that spans more than two decades, Common has an impressive creative portfolio. He’s just one award shy of being a member of the exclusive society of EGOT winners, performers who have an Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and an Oscar. He’s a published author, philanthropist, and a political activist. He could easily let his accolades speak for themselves, but with a voice like his, which a fan once described as “Godiva chocolate taking form of Barry White” why would he?
As a young musician, Common launched his rap career in the early '90s. His 1994 sophomore album, Resurrection, took his skill as a spoken-word poet and set it to the jazz-inspired beats of his friend and producer No ID. The album was hailed for its lyricism and helped to define the sound of hip-hop at the time. Today, many consider the project a classic.
Poetry-driven content has defined Common’s musical career. Resurrection’s breakout single, "I Used to Love H.E.R," is a creative dedication to his love of a woman. At the close of the last verse, it’s revealed that the song is not about a woman at all, but is really a love letter to hip-hop. It was this kind of lyrical maturity and honesty that became part of his musical identity. He raps with a vulnerability that most rappers work hard to disguise.
Undeniably, he’s had his fair share of controversy and isn’t above engaging in a good rap beef now and again. Drake drama aside (Common targeted Drake on his single "Sweet" and things went south from there), Common is on a continuous journey of self exploration and fulfillment, giving fans much more than music to look forward to.
Common’s musical catalog is only rivaled by his film credits. Even though he’s personally fueled by positivity, on screen he’s often chosen roles that are the exact opposite. In 2008, he played Gunsmith in the action-packed assassin film Wanted. As his career has progressed, he’s taken on roles in films that echo his politics and reinforce the positive portrayal of black men in the media. He played civil rights leader James Bevel in Selma, a film based on events in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Most recently, he portrayed Carlos, a supportive uncle to the protagonist in The Hate U Give, a film centered on police brutality and the contentious relationship between law enforcement and urban communities.
At 49 years old, Common is pacing himself. He’s taken a break from the silver screen and is putting his words to a different beat, or page, so to speak. This past May, he released a memoir titled Let Love Have the Last Word. The book speaks to his mission to spread love in all that he does, and to promote personal responsibility within our society. “I realized I had to do more,” he said to Fast Company magazine “If I’ma talk it and rap it, then I gotta be it.”
To his fans' delight, he’s also gone back to his first love: hip-hop. He’s touring again, bringing classic hits to new stages. He’s announced a new album and tour that share the same name as his book. According to Common, he’s more vulnerable in this work than he’s ever been before. He wants fans to be able to experience his growth with him. The best way he knows how to do that is the same way he always has: with beats and love.
Common. 8 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at The Van Buren, 401 West Van Buren Street; tickets start at $35 via thevanburenphx.com.
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