It’s a rare occasion when a legend asks you out to dinner. Yet, there I was, sitting across from Common, one of the early pioneers of hip-hop and one of the most conscious rappers in the game. Common, 42, who likes to be called by his real name Rashid (Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr), pulled out my chair, ordered a veggie dinner, and even prayed blessings over the meal before we began. I felt like I was in the presence of someone very grounded to his roots, yet very connected to the spirituality of the universe. And this was for a job interview.
I was interviewing to be Common’s personal assistant. As he asked me questions, I enjoyed our banter on God, culture, and the starkly different cities from which we hail: me, the Pleasantville-like suburbs of Orange County; him, the blood-stained streets of Chicago (aka Chiraq). Common spoke passionately about his next album release, Nobody’s Smiling, which underlines the astonishing violence occurring in Chicago right now. 421 murders took place in 2013 alone. That’s enough to shake anybody up.
In a recent interview, he told Vlad TV, “That’s why I’m making Nobody’s Smiling, that’s why it’s not just the music, but the movement of the fact that man I’m not happy, I’m from Chicago… I’m not happy we losing people… people getting shot over things that ain’t even necessary,” he said. “There’s people out in the field right now doing grassroots movements that work every day towards stopping violence in Chicago and all around the country but I’m like, ‘This is where I’m from.’ I’ve been blessed enough to chase my dream, go after my dream and I want to provide the same for people where I come from.”
Nobody’s Smiling will be released later in July under Def Jam / ARTium. It will feature Kanye West as well as production from Common’s longtime collaborator No I.D. The two have made magic together in the past and this collab is no different. This album is meant to be a movement for social change.
At dinner, Common tossed a couple bars to me to get my opinion on his lyrics. But how do you kick game to a legend? So, I went into straight Stanford-mode, broke down those bars like an academic scholar. Being an upcoming MC as well, I even tossed a few ideas to him. He was so humble about it, for a moment there, I forgot I was talking to a global mega star. I was quickly reminded. Halfway through dinner, an ambitious looky-lou ran up and pitched herself as an artist. I was impressed with her bravado, but even more impressed with Common’s kind reception of her. Such encompasses his most endearing trait: at heart, he is a man of the people.
As the valet pulled his car up (yes, it was fly), he invited me inside to listen to a couple of tracks from his forthcoming album. (He was, in fact, on his way to the studio). The mood got somber as he spoke about the death of his friend – and his regret about not embracing that friend more while he himself shot to fame. The regretful / reflective mood filled the car as Common rapped like butta over his new tracks. I wouldn’t be surprised if music like this filled Nobody’s Smiling.
As we said our goodbyes, I felt like I got that rare chance to see into the spirit of a man who has committed himself to using his fame and hip-hop as a force for love, consciousness, unity and hope in the world – despite the violence raving in his native Chicago.
Now that’s something to smile about.