Common’s ascent into pop culture through movies and endorsements has not the stilted his attention to social issues still affecting Hip-Hop culture.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Common characterized in forthcoming ninth studio album as inspirational, but with an edge in the spirit of emcees like Nas, KRS-One and Kanye West.
“If true belief is there, man, the world is yours,” Common said. “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.”
Throughout the past 20 years, Common’s native Chicago has hit the national radar because of its high murder rate involving young African-Americans. Last September, a black honor student was beaten to death on video during an after-school brawl.
In the 90s, many innocent children were shot as bystanders during conflicts between rival gangs. Others were killed after being recruited into gang warfare. The most famous case involved 11 year old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, whose criminal rap sheet included arson, armed robbery and drug possession.
On August 27, 1994, he shot and paralyzed a 15 year old Kianta Britten, and later that same day accidentally killed 14 year old Shavon Dean while shooting at rival gang members.
Less than a week later, members from his own Black Disciples gang executed him.
From Common’s experience working with these youths, their descent into gangs and crime comes from disenfranchisement. He believes if exposed to creative, stimulating outlets and endeavors, many will choose more positive paths.
“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,” he explained. “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…”
Another hot-button topic in Common’s life is criticism of the misogyny in Hip-Hop music. While the majority of his music does not degrade women, as a rapper he’s felt the need to defend and explain the culture to others. Several years ago, Common was a panelist of Oprah Winfrey’s show. He was put in the awkward position of having to defend Gangsta Rap to Oprah Winfrey and Spelman graduates despite being an emcee that did not do that style of Hip-Hop.
Today, Common points out the issue is not a specific to Hip-Hop culture, but a flaw that every society has to combat against. In Hip-Hop’s defense, he points to specific artists fans have as alternatives.
“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, Common argued. “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.
Fans will soon be able to catch Common on the small screen when he stars as a conflicted, bi-racial freed slave on AMC’s new series Hell on Wheels. Shooting for the project began this month.
At press time, his new album The Believer does not have a release date.