When Sound Session debuted on KUBE six years ago, we had the pleasure of welcoming Common to the studio as our first guest. We dedicated the entire show to his music and he regaled us with behind the scenes tales about his favorite songs off each of his classic albums. Since then, we’ve had him on the show numerous times (remember this listening party?) and run into him at all sorts of events. Throughout all this interaction, one thing has stood out to me above even the quality of his music: this is one of the nicest “celebrities” I’ve ever met.
Common has a way of talking to you so genuinely that you know he actually cares about what you’re discussing and more importantly, he cares about you. Honestly, it’s kind of spooky. Years after first talking about how I coached youth basketball, he asked me out of the blue: “are you still coaching kids?” He’s just a great dude and an excellent representative of our culture.
This is not to say he’s without flaws, but much like 2Pac, he represents the natural duality that we all share in our morals/ethics and his music always reflects what he believes, even if it’s not popular. He’s also grown as an artist and person over the years (haven’t we all?), which makes this Fox News pseudo-controversy all the more hysterical. If you’ve been living under a rock, Jon Stewart can get you up to speed:
Not much more needs to be said (aside from PLEASE DON’T EVER EVEN PRETEND TO RAP, JON), but rapper SoulStice summed up his thoughts nicely in a recent email:
What’s the word?
I think I’m going to need a late pass on this one. I didn’t realize that Common had been invited to perform at the White House until after Sarah Palin had already gotten on the air and poo-pooed the whole thing.
My response to Common performing lyrics as poetry at the White House is probably as predictable as Sarah Palin’s. Yay! For me, this is a form of acknowledgement by those in power that the voice of my generation as expressed through hip hop is recognized not only for its entertainment value but for its social and political relevance. Never mind that this acknowledgement comes from a President that himself struggles for acceptance as part of mainstream America.
When Sarah Palin says that Common’s body of work doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of representing “all that’s good about America,” she does have a point. Common’s third album, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997)” was a very influential one for me. On “Hungry,” Common raps:
“Downtown interracial lovers hold hands,
I breathe heavy like an old man…”
At the time, I remember reflecting on those lines for a while. Although in 1997 I hadn’t yet dated outside of my race (wasn’t the coolest move to make in my segregation-minded Chicagoland high school), I knew that one of my favorite artists and I felt differently on the subject of interracial relationships. Today, as part of an interracial marriage and father to a multi-ethnic child, my view on the subject is as diametrically opposed as ever to the view expressed on “Hungry.” Hopefully Common’s is too.
So no, Common’s body of work doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of representing “all that’s good about America.” But isn’t that bar too high? I wouldn’t pass that test. For that matter, neither would Palin, Hannity, O’Reilly or any of the right-wing (or otherwise) critics of Obama’s choice to bring Common to the White House. Even removing all of moral blemishes like the “Hungry” line from Common’s catalog, it wouldn’t clear the bar that Palin has set here. As an artist, Common has chosen to shine a light on some of the things that aren’t so good about America like police brutality and racial bias in the prison system. Would it be too much to ask for Palin and others to spend some time reflecting on the hard truths in lyrics like those before rushing to shoot the messenger?
I applaud the White House for hosting Common for a performance. Even with his imperfections, I think he’s done more to uplift America than any of the aforementioned pundits whose self-serving divisiveness does more to harm our social fabric than to strengthen it. On “G.O.D.,” another song from “One Day It’ll All Make Sense,” Common spit another couple of lines that have stuck with me all these years:
“Long as you know it’s a being that’s supreme to you,
and let that show towards others in the things you do”
Words to live by.
It’s one thing for Faux News to do this to other news stories, but when they go after one of the members of our community, it annoys me to no end. They really shouldn’t speak on things that they have no concept of, but I suppose that’s par for the course throughout media, not just on Fox.
As our generation gets older, it’s up to people like you, me, and SoulStice to continue to bring sanity to these “debates.” We have an obligation to push the discourse in the right direction and away from the silliness.