RedEye

Interview: Common hosts second annual Common Ground Foundation gala

The Common who hosted his second annual Common Ground Foundation gala Saturday is exactly the kind of guy you would want your daughter to date.

The Chicago rapper-turned-actor is passionate about helping today’s youth (he will host a five-day summer camp in Wisconsin this year for inner-city Chicago students), he’s kind to the elderly (he took it upon himself to find the cane-carrying Harry Belafonte somewhere to sit during the gala’s VIP reception at the Ritz-Carlton hotel) and he has friends in high places (Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the gala for the second year in a row).

But there is another side to Common — one he rarely showed in the mainstream until recently.

In the past six months, the usually modest Common (at least by hip-hop standards) rapped on his angry single “Sweet”: “How can I say this? … I’m the greatest.” And after Canadian rapper Drake referenced “Sweet” in a song called “Stay Schemin,” Common responded with lyrics that confirmed “Sweet” originally was partly an attack on Drake.  “Acting all hard when he hardly like that,” Common rapped. “You going to mess around and make me catch a body like that” and “I’m taking too long with this amateur guy. You ain’t wetting nobody … you Canada dry.”

Common, real name Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., who can be seen in AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” calls his aggressive rhymes therapeutic.

“That’s an expression of me,” said Common, whose charity honored Belafonte and the Bears’ Israel Idonije, among others, on Saturday. “I believe that that always did exist. It’s just sometimes you suppress it. Sometimes it’s not necessary to bring out. I guess one of the healthiest ways to release that is through art or working out. I got to do it through song. Sometimes I need those songs to get me charged.”

Common has long been seen as a thinking man’s rapper and a welcome relief to those who are tired of the violence and materialism expressed in some hip-hop lyrics. That’s why many in the rap community could only laugh last May when conservatives labeled him as vile and controversial and criticized First Lady Michelle Obama for inviting him to the White House. But this was before Common was swinging in the air and growling at the camera in the Haiti-filmed music video for “Sweet.”

Have some fans been disappointed by Common’s, um, less friendly side?

“Maybe so,” he said. “But I think it’s important as an artist to offer who you are. You have to be honest with yourself and your creativity and not just cater to what you think the fans are going to want. Of course you make music for fans. You’re not just making it for yourself. But why hide who you are to the fans? Fans actually want to know who you are. I’ll show my imperfections, I’ll show my anger, I’ll show my strength, I’ll show my love, I’ll show all I can offer when creating music and being an artist.”

As for the “Sweet” video, Common initially required fans to donate $1 to actor Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization to view it online, and he also donated proceeds from the video’s premiere party in November to the charity.

Hey, this is still Common we’re talking about.

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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