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Common | An Interview at Columbia College Chicago

Common | An Interview at Columbia College Chicago

Common talks with Chris Terry about finding his creativity within growing up in Chicago and discuss his influencers like KRS One, Nas, and more. The G.O.O.D. Music signee also discusses the difficulties of being categorized, Chicago’s Hip-Hop scene, denouncing Cruel Winter compilation and working with No I.D.‘s Cocaine 80s.


How do you feel about being called a conscious rapper; what do you think of that term?


Common: Intially, when I was first called a conscious rapper, first off, I’m from the Southside of Chicago… Seeing all that I’ve seen, the good and the bad and y’know a lot of my earlier music definitely was like… I was on my first cover with a 40 oz. [of beer] I wasn’t a squeaky-clean person but at a certain point in my career I decided I wanted to put out more positive vibrations into music in general. I saw what music could do to inspire people’s lives in art so I’m like, ‘I’m choosing that path’. I started getting called a conscious artist and I was like, y’know it’s cool, but it kind of lumped me into one category and it separated me even more. It made even made me fall into a thought-process of, “Okay, I’m a conscious rapper so I can’t rock with a Jay-Z,” but eventually I reverted back to the middle and got balanced. I don’t disassociate myself from other people. I don’t disassociate myself from Chief Keef, Lil’ Reese or any other artist. I’m saying that to say, ‘I don’t look down on their expression’. That’s their expression. And at the same token I respect the fact that these young guys expressing himself the way he sees fit and what he can give to the world right now.


Eventually being labeled as a conscious rapper, I started to embracing it at one point because I think about the conscious artists over time. You think about Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, KRS One, and people who spoke up against social ills and society itself. So when I started thinking about that I embraced it. And now, I think people used to think, ‘Well, cause you conscious, you don’t have fun…,’ People expect me to be serious all the time, that’s not what it is. I’m being aware and like I said I want to put out positive vibrations but I love to have fun; I like to turn up [applause] and kick it.


So what do you think the people here, college students, professors and adminstrators, what can we do to help stop the cycle of violence in Chicago?


Well, I think what’s going on with the violence, I think one of the most important things we can promote is love. And that’s love for God, love for yourself and love for other human beings as yourself. I know some of the people that we need that to reach to, we may not be able  to say, ‘Hey, we’re promoting love,’ and they may not be open that idea yet but the best way to express it is to be there. Be present with young people who live in those environments and give them an opportunity to do something else. I know if young people had other opportunities and programs.


In the past, I heard you’re a vegan, now a pescatarian; it almost sounds like a zodiac sign but its a good diet; I was wondering what would you  advise someone who was short on money and time but they want to eat healthy. What would you suggest?


I will acknowledge that eating healthy is expensive but if you can find some good markets that you can go to get the best that you can afford. One thing is to do some research, I did research for myself on my own body. I started testing out what works for me. I heard in rap songs, different things like, you shouldn’t eat pork or beef. And of course that effected me but I decided to stop eating the pork and beef and I saw how it affected my body and that’s a win for me. I feel clear. I feel better. When I wake-up, I don’t feel as heavy. I just recently did a test on food allergens because just because you’re a vegan doesn’t mean you’re eating healthy. I used to be vegan and eat french fries all day. [audience laughs] Salad and french fries at 2AM in the morning… and that necessarily is not healthy.


It’s important to find out what you need within your body and just in general when you do need to get those foods that are healthy, you gonna have to spend that extra buck. You might have to sacrifice for food what you might’ve wanted to spend on clothes. I know you’re like, ‘Wait, I wanna style.’ But we all want to style but if you feeling better on the inside you’re gonna look better anyway.


C0mmon also spoke briefly on dealing with the adversity his character on the television show set in the 19th century, Hell On Wheels, and how it feels to go back in time in his role as freed slave Elam Ferguson.


As a black man living in 2013, how does it feel to step back in time and play such a role? 


It was an honorable experience for me to take on a character from that time. I have to respect each and every individual, especially black individuals, who had to live during that time to deal from the suffering, persecutions, and basically the abuse and hate that was thrown their way. And for so many people to overcome that, it’s an honor to take on. I feel like I have to pay homage to people that sacrficed thier  lives to even just live during that time.


The more I read about stories [during that time] I understand about the struggle that we, as black people, had to struggle with. Also, I learned that everything wasn’t so black and white. Meaning it wasn’t just white people against black people. It was some relationships that had depth to them. It was families that were mixed as black and white that were together for support. I had more of an understanding of where we are now. It also made me feel, to be honest, as I looked at what we contributed to the building of this country I felt more American. I felt like, ‘I’m apart of America,’ in a way that when I saw Obama get elected President I felt more apart of America.


What was something you learned as a musician that translated into acting?


One thing I’ve learned that translated to acting, I would say, is to be free, open and creative. Anything you’re doing in art, an interview or whatever the best thing you can be is relaxed. And that doesn’t mean that you won’t be intense when intensity is necessary but to be just confident and comfortable with what you’re doing is very important. I learned that after just performing enough I think that helped benefit me in acting but I have to say that just because you can rap doesn’t mean you can act. It’s too different forms of expression. Sometimes you may think like I’m good on camera rapping so I’ll be great in this role but a role is a different character. But when you’re writing and being an MC, that’s your story, but you have to become apart of someone’s else story as a character. And its a different medium, so I don’t ever mistake the fact that because I rap… that’s not gonna make me a great actor … it’s because I want to work towards becoming a great actor.


Can you speak more about the film you did entitled LUV?


It was an independent film that I produced along with my manager Derek Dudley. We have a film/television production called Freedom Road. So our first endeavor, as far as producing film or televsion, it was received well at Sundance Film Festival. It’s a story about a young guy, a coming of age story for this kid, whose uncle is just released from jail. I play his uncle. His uncle is trying to be a father-figure to this kid and take him out and show him how to do things the right way. Well, his ‘right-way’ is not always the right way. He’s the teaching the kid to drive when he’s only 11-years old. He’s putting a gun in his hand teaching him how to shoot. Eventually the days astray and the uncle invovles the kid in situations that no kid or adult should be subjected to. The movie is definitely traumatic. The director, really, intially labeled the film as: Training Day with a little kid [audience laughs].


What other projects are you working on?


Well, I’m working on some music. I’m working on a mixtape which will be the first [official] mixtape ever. I’m in the process of recording songs for that. Also, I’m working on an album after the mixtape. I filmed a movie called Now You See Me which is about these magicians robbing banks. It’s real cool; it’s a cool movie starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Morgan Freeman. It’s real cool.


Interviewer Chris Terry also allowed audience members to ask Common a few question they wanted to know regarding more info about his related projects, in which I myself asked:


Terrell Johnson: Can you confirm or deny whether or not Cruel Winter will be coming out and can you talk a little bit about your involvement with No I.D. and Cocaine 80s?


I don’t think we’re going to release Cruel Winter but a lot of the artists [in G.O.O.D. Music] are working on solo albums. Big Sean finishing up his solo album. Pusha-T is finishing his album. Kanye [West]  is working and creating. So, we won’t have Cruel Winter… I mean, I would love to because all of us together you get all these varieties of artistry.


Cocaine 80s is something I really enjoy doing because James Flauntleroy is one of most talented writers I’ve ever been around. No I.D. is a force when it comes to making music and is very talented and has a vision. The artists that we work with amongst that collective is like I can do anything I want. I have a lot fun when I get to perform on music that’s different. Like even on some the songs that I did that didn’t end up on Cruel Summer; like I was rapping over some trap beats [laughs].


Pick up the G.O.O.D. Music compliation entitled Cruel Summer in stores now.


Interview conducted by: Chris Terry

Photography by: Tianna Garland

Transcribed by: Terrell Johnson


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