When I saw that Common was coming to St. Louis to speak at UMSL’s Student Life Speaker Series, I knew I had to be there. Since his first hit ‘I Used to Love H.E.R’ impacted radio stations worldwide in 1994, I have been a fan. Common is known to be a “conscious” rapper, i.e., he doesn’t spout off the usual degrading and harsh verbals as other rappers have done, but still maintains his cool with the hip-hop community by bridging the gap between good music and a message.
Common first stepped on the stage at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL by opening up with a freestyle that mentioned his hometown of Chicago and a lot of St. Louis “landmarks” including Natural Bridge, Imo’s Pizza, and The Loop. I thought it was so cool of him to actually shout out places and things that us St. Louisans love so well. It was very personal.
Then be got into the theme of the night, which is a powerful subject that resonates a lot with me: GREATNESS
Common explained that while he was 12 years old growing up in Chicago, he became impacted by the story of Emmett Till. For those of you who aren’t familiar with who Emmett Till is, he was a teen from Chicago who went to visit family the Mississippi Delta in 1955 and was beaten and then shot to death for whistling at a white woman. When Emmett’s body was found floating in a river, his head was 10x’s it’s size and he was unrecognizable to his own mother. He said that the “spirit” of Emmett would walk about with him and it gave him a conscience. It was then that he began to believe in being great, not just for himself, but for Emmett who never was able to live a full life because he was tragically murdered.
Later, Common used that greatness to fuel his love for music and hip-hop, and went on to become a successful rapper, actor, and activist. He founded his non-profit organization, the Common Ground Foundation, to expose the youth to creative forms of expression to create new opportunities.
Common noted that there are three things you need to be successful and overcome obstacles. You need:
- To find your path
- Believe in your path
- Live your path
If you don’t find your path, you will forever be searching for something you will never find because you can’t identify it. And if you don’t believe in your path, how will you get others to believe in it? Then, you have to live your path. You have to live your life and walk your path despite any obstacles that come your way.
Common even mentioned his break-up with singer Erykah Badu as the catalyst for him believing in his path. It was then that he learned to stop hiding in the shadows for others because they wanted to shine. As he poignantly noted, we all deserve to shine.
And shine, Common did.
For those people who think that rappers are just guys who walk around cursing, sagging, and being negative, look at Common. A positive brother on a mission to help improve himself as well as others.
Common’s latest book is called, One Day, It Will All Make Sense.