Hip-hop legend Common’s positive outlook is inspiring. We may have experienced a tumultuous 18 months globally, but the Chicago artist, actor and activist has tackled it head on, throwing himself into one of the most creative periods of his career.
“I feel it’s overflowing!”, he reveals when asked if his creative juices are flowing right now. The time provided by Covid-enforced lockdown enabled omni-talented artist to hit the studio and ignite a prolific writing streak that resulted in last year’s sublime Beautiful Revolution Part 1 and the forthcoming Part 2 follow up.
Penned in a world tackling a pandemic, racial and social injustice and one of the most polarising presidential elections in years, Part 1 represented a healing call for humanity. Part 2 continues the mission, but depicts the life in a new light.
Common gave us a taste of what’s to come on the second chapter back in July with the sizzling single Imagine featuring PJ, a track that embodies an inspiring message of hope tough times, one that aims to unite in adversity, across a dazzling, sun-soaked, funked-out track.
Groove-laden follow-up release When We Move, featuring Black Thought and Seun Kuti, is equally captivating, turning up the tempo with fast drum beats and a brass section, as Common and co lyrically manoeuvre the obstacles faced in our collective history – and how positivity and recognition can command acceptance of those creating change.
Common’s message across both releases is simple. The world is truly on a cusp of a “beautiful revolution” if we all unite and look forward with positivity.
“When we think of revolutions, we think of guns or taking over the government – it’s a physical thing”, he told Daily Star. “But no – revolution is something that’s spiritual and based in love. It has a beauty to it.
“The beauty is not always pretty at first but it comes out because of the end results, and what you gain through it. What we’ve gained through this difficult time and through these changes, this revolution as such is a lot of beauty.
“That self care and self awareness and self love is part of the beautiful revolution, and that’s that I want to convey in Part 2.”
Daily Star’s Rory McKeown caught up with Common to talk about the creation of A Beautiful Revolution Parts 1 and 2, how he’s navigated the pandemic, his vision for the world, and his future plans.
Hi Common. How can you sum up the past year for you both personally and creatively? You’ve been involved in a lot, from the election to releasing material.
“Personally, the past year was a year of learning, a year of growth, a year of learning a lot about myself and things that are important to me, things I truly value in my life. The past year has been a year of gratitude for life, and really connecting with humanity more. Caring for humanity, stopping my busy day because days weren’t as busy and really thinking about what’s going on with people across the globe, across this planet.
“It’s also been a year where I’ve bettered my relationship with God and become closer with the creator. How that translated to me creatively is the more I’m in tune with myself, the more I know myself, I know my heart is open, the better my music is, the more fruitful, reflective, hopeful, and enlightened the music is.
"I really found the music I’ve been creating now is coming from such a pure and godly place. I’m not like ‘what song is going to be played on the radio?’ or ‘what song is going to be my single?’, I’m just creating music because I love people, I love music, I love art and I love being a creator. This past year has given me the space to be that creator and do one of the things I love doing most in my life – and that’s creating music.”
Do you think your creative juices are really flowing right now?
“I feel it’s overflowing! I’ve been able to work on an album and not have to fly to do a speaking engagement over here, or go to try and do this film over there. Beautiful Revolution Part 1 and 2, those were my focuses. It was a fun focus. An intentional focus where I got to spend my day writing music, writing rhymes and working on choruses. Creating music in the studio, just vibing.
"We’ve got so many pieces of music. It’s incredible. I’ve haven’t had that time probably since 2003/4 when I really started getting into acting and doing other things. I had the time and the inspiration. This music overflowing.”
Let’s talk about your recent single Imagine featuring PJ. When did you write that one? What was influencing you when writing it?
“I had recorded most of the album. We went into the studio and did a couple of sessions in December. We started the album at the beginning of January. By mid-February we were mostly finished.
"Imagine was one of the last songs we created. When I heard the music, it made me feel good. It made me think of that summertime song that I wanted to ride out to or people at their barbecues, just playing outside. I was free styling saying ‘imagine this’. I was like ‘wow, that’s going to be the concept right there – imagine’. I just started to use my words and allow them to take me to places of what would I like to see in the world. If I could create and write a story on what the world should be, and paint a new world or a new day, what does that new day look like? That’s what Imagine became.
"The root of it is in hope and optimism. It’s saying ‘let’s create the things we want to see’. It’s empowering. It’s what I believe that song is about.”
You’re quoted as saying that you wanted to write a song that can help you move and move your spirit, how you can feel inspired, which is what music does to you, and that the days are getting better. How important is it for everyone right now that the message of ‘hope’ is instilled in our lives?
“Oh man. That’s one of the greatest things we can have any day of our lives. If we wake up with hope, then we’re going to pursue the day in a different way, in an energetic way, in a positive way. That doesn’t mean we’re oblivious or don’t care about what’s going on in the world. You acknowledge it but you see something else. You see something that can be. In seeing that, it allows you to create it.
"There’s nothing in this world that exists if someone didn’t see it first. They saw it somewhere in their minds. Steve Jobs saw what he saw and he created that. Stevie Wonder saw in his mind, which is why he made an album called Innervisions. He saw it and he created it. All the things we want to see in the world, we have to see it in our minds at some point. For me, a lot of the things that I’m rapping about are concepts I’ve been dealing with in life and I’m striving to put into practise.
“I read a book called The Power of Imagination. It just so happens that when I read it, a month or two later I did write about imagination because of the way I think. I’m really writing certain ideas and philosophies. I’m putting mantras in songs because that’s what I want my music to be.”
What do you envisage the next 12 months to be like for you and the world?
“For me, I’ve really been intentional about creating music and creating more music for films. I’ve personally been intentional about acting in really quality projects. I’m actually going to be coming to London to be filming an Apple TV show which I’m excited to be spending some time there. I love London. That’s what I see for me work-wise.
"Also the activism. I have Imagine Justice, Common Ground and AIM. AIM is the school I have in Chicago, Common Ground is the foundation I have in Chicago, and Imagine Justice is the organisation we have towards social justice and humanity. I see myself working towards advancing the programmes we have and bringing in more light to issues that I see going on in the world that I believe Imagine Justice is working towards. A lot of incredible films, incredible music and activism.
“For the world, and this is for me too, I feel that it’s important that a lot of the things we’ve learned from this pandemic that we bring into our new normal, that we move forward. A lot of people have said I want to go back to normal. We don’t go back in life. We want to go forward. What did we pick up during this pandemic that’s been beneficial to us? What did we learn that we needed to let go of?
"For me, I learned I needed to let go of some of the busyness that I think I had to always have. I learned it’s great to be still at times and be still. Stillness. The power in that and what that can do for you from a spiritual standpoint, a health standpoint. I think as a world we have to continue to take those ideas and the things we were blessed with.
"There was a lot of pain in this pandemic but there were some blessings. The blessings that we got and move forward thinking about ‘OK, how can we be even more humane?’. I really feel that during the pandemic a lot of people care about humanity. People are wearing masks because they care about themselves and for others. I see the world continuing to be in that state of caring for one another and thinking out ways to communicate in a more positive and more compassionate way.
"America’s not going backwards. We’ve been through a whole lot, we’ve learned a whole lot, and it’s not going backwards. I feel the world itself is not going backwards. Each country has learned something for themselves. As a world we’ve learned that we care about each other. Our lives are worth something, the things we value, our families, the things we love in life are worth pursuing. That’s how the world will move forward.”
It is a “beautiful revolution” in a way, isn’t it? It’s a pertinent album name in a pertinent time for the world right now…
“Yes sir. When we think of revolutions, we think of guns or taking over the government – it’s a physical thing. But no – revolution is something that’s spiritual and based in love. It has a beauty to it. The beauty is not always pretty at first but it comes out because of the end results, and what you gain through it.
"That self care and self awareness and self love is part of the beautiful revolution, and that’s that I want to convey in Part 2.”
You were heavily involved with the Biden/Harris campaign by encouraging people to vote and canvassing. Can you describe what it was like with they won the election, and what’s life like in the US now?
“The victory was really powerful because so many people turned up by themselves to vote. They realised that by me voting is like me showing up for myself and my community. It’s me showing up for this country. I went out and canvassed but there were so many people participating and aware of what the election was about. They were aware of some of the location elections going on. It showed me that people were engaged and really cared about what was happening. To see that really was the victory for me.
"Ultimately, to see Biden and Harris get in, and see a woman as a Vice President and to see a new person who I believe is taking time to grow and evolve and say ‘man, this whole world needs justice’. You haven’t heard any presidential candidates talking about Black Lives Matter and saying things like the criminal justice system needs reform. I believe we’ll work towards it.
“A lot of work has to be done. This is a system that’s been in place for a long time. It’s hundreds of years of oppression as a country. One man and one woman isn’t going to change it in one term. But, it’s work that can be done, and them getting the Senate and the House, it’s time for us to hold them accountable now. I went out and did it so we can get them in office and to hold them to account. That’s what we have to do as a country. I think the energy of the country is in a more positive direction because we’re not sitting here talking about what our president is doing wrong every day.
"Rory, I have had more conversations within the past four years about the ignorance of a president that I had about anything else. That’s what all the conversation was about. We’re not spending our energy towards that anymore. That means we can move forward. We can talk things that are solutions, and revolutions in many ways. We can talk about the issues that we need to change and holding officials accountable. I think it’s in a really positive direction. All our problems are not solved but we’re working towards it.”
What’s next for you Common? Any other projects you’re collaborating on?
“I want to be a great musical composer for films. I was able to score, along with some of my team, a film called Alice that I’m an actor in, me and KeKe Palmer, and I’m really excited about it. Scoring and creating more music is next.
"Also creating more policy change and programmes that are resolving some of the violence that’s going on in my hometown and around in our country's inner cities.
"Like I told you, I’m coming out to do a show for Apple, which is next. New films that I’m producing and TV that I'm producing, new work for me to act in. I’ll be doing a performance at Carnegie Hall at some point. Theatre is next. Blessed times.”
A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 is out now via Loma Vista Recordings. Part 2 is out September 10
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