Common: From Hip Hop to Hollywood

(Last Updated On: December 31, 2014)

In an exclusive interview with Empower Magazine, Common shares his thoughts on the movie “Selma”, his recent award nominations and the current social unrest in the country.


First of all, congratulations on the many great things happening in your career most recently your Grammy and Golden Globe Awards nominations for the song ‘Glory’ in the movie ‘Selma’ as well as an NAACP “Outstanding Supporting Actor” nomination. Tell us what it feels like to be recognized in both the music and film realms?

It is a wonderful feeling and it’s a blessing being acknowledged and seen in that way. I love what I do as an actor and as an artist and to be recognized on those broad scales is a great feeling. I am, man, just like thanking God.

Would you say you are on Cloud Nine right now?
I’d say, more like, Cloud 17.

“Glory” is an amazing song, and has an iconic feel, tell us your thoughts on the song and what was it like collaborating with John Legend?

I love to collaborate with John Legend, he is such a powerful songwriter and has so much presence. He has so much soul and he knows how to write in such a way that you clearly know what he is saying and he evokes emotion when he sings. We wanted to do something with this song to really pay respect and homage to the movement of Selma, but also connect it to what is going on in America right now, from Ferguson to Chicago; I mean it is happening all over in America, in Atlanta, in Houston. We wanted to connect to that and also to just really inspire people and let them know we can win this war and win this fight.

Tell us about your role in the movie “Selma” and how it felt to be a part of the retelling of such a historic event in our nation’s history?

Being a part of the movie was a great learning experience and enriched me as a human being. I loved the people I worked with from Ava DuVernay to the cast and the crew. The producers were cool and I listened to Ambassador Andrew Young; it was a really enriching experience. I learned a lot about what it took to change the world and be somebody that is important. Everyday people were
doing this, it wasn’t like only politicians or just entertainers, these were teachers and sharecroppers and people that worked every day, trades people, who just stood up for what they believed in and stood up for justice and really changed the world.

What was the most challenging part of preparing for your role in this film?

The most challenging part is really making sure, because you are portraying someone that is sincere and real, you want to capture that energy and make sure you get that right. That was probably one of the most challenging parts, making sure in your mind that you get it right.

There is a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding the movie Selma, what are your thoughts on the film’s shot at winning an Academy Award for ‘Best Picture’.

It would be an incredible blessing to be a part of a film that is Oscar-nominated or if Ava DuVernay is nominated for an Oscar. She is a tremendous and super talented director and to see if David Oyelowo is nominated. It would be special, I got to say, especially for a movie of so much substance and light to be recognized in that way. This movie is probably one of the most positive movies that ever was released and to be appreciated as a piece of art as well as being a catalyst for a movement that would be the best of all worlds. Being a part of the film and being nominated would be incredible and also if Glory gets nominated that would be awesome.

Now to your latest CD, describe the inspiration behind “Nobody’s Smiling,” and the message you would like listeners to walk away with?

The message I want people to walk away with is that, yes, there are some tough times going on right now in the cities when it comes to just having jobs and the violence that the youth have been having to dealing with, but to know that we can move past it. We just have to be motivated to know that we can do the things we need to do to better our situation. Really we all relate, on a certain level, whether you are 16 or 34, we are connected, it is like the people’s troubles in the neighborhood I come from are my troubles. So we have to all figure out how we can improve the situation.

Do you have a favorite song on the CD, and if so, why?

One of my favorite songs on the CD is “No Fear”. First of all it is such a Hip Hop kind of song, and I like the thought and the concept of no fear. It talks about being in the situations where you don’t have fear, you know, kind of the street mentality, but then it talks too about teaching my daughter to respect certain things and value things in life and me having no fear getting to that point. I just like it because it gives you that feeling of the Hip Hop that I love and listen too, and is the culture and art form that I love.

Tell us about the work you are doing through The Common Ground Foundation and the ultimate impact you would like your nonprofit to have?

We have been working with the youth to really just develop them and keep them in a good space. We use the creative arts to develop youth through character development and academically, hoping to
peak their interests as far as something that they want to pursue and can be passionate about. We run camps in the summer that get to attend that helps develop their leadership skills and bonding
skills and lets us work with the youth of Chicago. I look at it as an opportunity to give back, organized basketball was helpful to me and my mother being a teacher was something that inspired me. I always wanted to help those who didn’t have as much.

We are experiencing a lot of unrest in the country over the recent deaths of African American men, what are your thoughts on the underlying roots to the current social unrest we are facing and what you feel will help heal the country?

I believe there is just a lack of value for the life of Black and Brown people. There is just a lack of value and a lack of respect for life in some people, not all people, but some people. Part of it is that because they don’t have the communication or the relationship with Black or Brown people to say, “Man you know what this person might be in the hood, but this person is an intelligent, compassionate human being.” And judgment is put on people before you even get to talk to them. I think some of the solutions is for us as a people, as a nation, really, appointing people that have the people in the community’s best interest at heart, and who have an understanding of that community.

Basically what I am saying is that if a police officer understands the people of the community, even if there is some friction, that person is not going to let that situation get to the point where you have to kill a young man. You don’t hear about that going on from police officers that come from the neighborhood and really know it. I think, we ought to appoint people politically from a higher level to do this and we also have to teach our children how to work on things.

Common: From Hip Hop to Hollywood