Published Aug 30, 2019In his 25 years in the music industry, Chicago rapper Common has taught hard-knock lessons about the streets, community, economic literacy, societal downfalls, blackness, wellness, forgiveness, and redemption. Now on his new album Let Love, he's giving one more lesson: on the power of love.
"I wanted to focus on positive things to overcome the heaviness and weight that's weighing people down," he tells Exclaim! in an interview. "For me, as a person with my experiences and the times when I've felt depressed or angry, the way for me to get out of those things has been self-love, love in God, surrounding myself with love, finding things I love to do — all those things. I do believe one of the greatest antidotes is love."
In contrast to his 2017 release Black America Again, Let Love serves as a continued conversation of expressing emotions that, at times, go left unsaid in communities of colour — particularly and historically, Common says, in the Black community.
"We've inherited some things passed on generationally, and some things have become a part of the culture and society where we don't feel like we can be open and vulnerable or share our hearts. We don't feel like we can talk about love and share our hearts, or be humble and not ego-driven," he explains.
"[In] American culture, Black people, as men, we feel like we gotta be careful and don't express yourself. But I've seen that turn many men into just rocks and not being human beings. It's important to discuss [emotions] because you have to see examples of people breaking the walls that were created by some of that stuff passed down that we don't need. What human being doesn't feel hurt? If you're on this planet, you've felt it. If we don't talk about it, it's going to keep being a hidden secret that keeps getting passed down from generation to generation, and people don't know how to deal with it and it'll come out in the wrong way."
As society struggles to stay afloat as a whole, "the wrong way" seems to be the common way. From political offices to street corners, the inability to communicate and express emotions has left gaping holes in humanity. For Common, it also left one in his relationship with his daughter.
"When my daughter told me I wasn't the best father, naturally I wanted to be like 'Oh man, I'm a good father' and this and that, but eventually you're kinda like, 'Let me hear her out and see why she feels that way.' Sometimes that's the only way to learn is to listen; even if you don't agree, there still may be something significant in there that'll help you move forward," he says.
"A part of it is really working on myself. I'm gonna go talk to this therapist, I'm gonna to take some time to be alone, I'm going to take some time in relationships and take inventory of myself in these relationships and understand who I am."
Common mentions that beyond being fortunate to have mental wellness resources available to him, the root of his honesty comes from the Southside Chicago hood he grew up in.
"There wasn't too much hiding what or who you were. Growing up and having that as the way I communicated, and what I knew was being able to acknowledge the things that weren't great about me. The more I discovered about myself the more I was like, 'Okay, this is what I am great at and these are the things I'm not good at that I'm working on.' In showing that human side and those failures in love, [I learned] being vulnerable is a strength and a courage. It's also a freedom. I'm a child of God, working to be a better person. I'm not in declaration that I'm perfect or the toughest, none of the above. I feel that I'm being more of myself than I've ever been."
And that person is rubbing off on others. The conversation shifts back to the love of hip-hop culture and Common's Daniel Caesar-featuring single, "H.E.R Love," a continuation of the 1994 classic "I Used to Love H.E.R."
"The first thing keeping me in love with hip-hop culture is the gratitude. Hip-hop is the reason why I'm able to travel around the world and see different things and meet different people. Hip-Hop is the reason why I was able to be in the White House with President Obama. Hip-Hop is the reason why I got to send my daughter to Howard and enjoy my life and express myself. [But] I always feel like I can be better and get better. I know that as an MC, I'm still wanting to be great. Even if I am [considered] great now, I can be even greater… in art, you can always grow and get better and evolve."
Whether he's acting — most recently with his role in The Kitchen — using the Common Ground Foundation to mentor youth, developing a free arts-based charter school in Chicago's Southside, making plans to develop land in his hometown and transform it into an entertainment district (about which he remains tight-lipped, but says "It would be a great vision and a beautiful thing") or just making music, Common is letting love lead.
"I want us to have the best things in life, the greatest aspects of life, and sometimes it's gonna take going through that struggle and that pain and also just being open."
Let Love is out August 30 courtesy of Loma Vista Recordings.