Common, prolific rapper, activist and now writer, was the guest at KCRW’s Apogee Session on July 25. I was among the lucky few who got to experience an intimate performance and interview with one of the greatest hip-hop artists of our generation. I say “our generation” because you can’t really lock Common into one generation. As most of the greats do, he has consistently stayed on the innovative, fresh edge of hip-hop music and has expertly evolved with time. While his music is ever-evolving, however, his message and persona have not changed over his three-decade career. That night’s theme was love, in every sense of the word. Love is something Common has been preaching for years. We experienced Common’s love for hip-hop music and culture, his love for the betterment and advancement of his people, the love he has for his daughter and the love he holds so deeply for our world and the possibility of female leadership.
"The Day the Women Took Over"
During his performance, he often spoke about women and his respect and admiration for them. He discussed his dream of Michelle Obama one day becoming President and even brought up one female audience member on the stage for an up-close-and-personal performance. Cynthia probably had a night she will never forget. As she sat in the spotlight, Common a mere inches away from her, you could see the excitement and nervous energy that surrounded her. He asked her questions, had her dry his head with his towel, and then freestyled verses incorporating her into them. They danced and laughed and were the envy of everyone in the whole room. Inspired by meeting Cynthia, he decided to perform “The Day the Women Took Over” from his album Black America Again for all of his female fans in attendance.
He performed other songs throughout the night including “South Side” and “Love Of My Life.” Each performance was unique, yet equally energetic. His MC roots came through loud and clear with each song as he engaged the audience to throw our hands in the air, “show him the lights,” and put up our fists in support of Black Power (reminiscent of the 1968 Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists after winning the 200 meter race). We were also treated to a selection of songs from his new album, Let Love, a companion piece to his autobiography, Let Love Have The Last Word, which was released on May 7 this year. Common was supported by an amazingly talented assortment of musicians who are must-sees in their own right: DJ and Musical Director DJ Dummy; bassist Burniss Travis; drummer Mark Colenburg; vocalists Muhsinah Abdul-Karim and Samora Pinderhughes; lead keyboardist Junius Bervine IV.
Common KCRW Interview
Following the first part of the performance, his band took a break and Common sat down for a Q&A with KCRW host Anthony Valadez. During the session, Common shared his process in bearing his soul when writing his book, his experience dining with the Obamas, and his current projects in his old community. Audience members learned intimate details that night including the fact that President Obama’s White House playlist included songs by Nas and Common’s “The People.” He also promoted his new project, a fine arts charter school called Aim, which will open in his old neighborhood of Chicago. The goal of Aim is to provide high-quality arts education in areas such as costume design and sound engineering. Common stated he wanted young people to know that you don’t necessarily need to be in front of the camera to have a truly exciting and rewarding career. His school will also encourage and educate its students in all aspects of health: nutrition, physical health, and especially mental health, an area he feels society needs to address more. He was very open about his own experiences in caring for his mental health from his time in individual and family therapy working through past and present issues.
Possibly more than Common’s love for hip-hop was the crowd’s love for Common that night. What struck me was the diverse crowd that had gathered for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Being quite short, I was able to politely squeeze my way to the front where my row-mates included a group of older people, not the twenty/thirty-somethings I was expecting. Perhaps this came as a shock to me because of Common’s enduring presence in pop culture, and because I often forget that his career began in the early nineties (at nearly 50, his appearance says otherwise). Regardless of where you stood, however, the enthusiasm for Common’s music and message and the energy of the room were so contagious that soon, I found myself swaying and hollering along with them.
Common is one of those artists that come around only rarely. Not only does he submit his heart and soul to his craft, but he also displays that same passion for the world around him. He uses his platform for good and to incite positive change in our society. A Common performance isn’t just a night of exceptionally good music, it’s a lesson and an inspiration to be a better version of yourself for your own sake and for the rest of the world. Experience the night I did by going to KCRW’s website. The interview and performance will be released on Aug. 23.
Photo Credit (these and feature photo): Brian Lowe for KCRW