Adimu Colon: Backstage at the summer music festival, the lineup is pretty hot: Estelle, Sharon Jones, and the Dap-Kings, Eric Roberson, Erykah Badu, and also Common. So, I want to talk to you about Cruel Summer.
Common: Man, I feel like hip-hop is—first of all, not even only with just GOOD Music, I gotta say—I think hip-hop is still alive in a strong way, man. I feel really enthused about hip-hop. But what we did with GOOD Music, you got such a conglomerate of talented people, and you’re bringing all these [together]—you got Two Chains, Kid Cuddy, Common, Kanye, Big Shawn, John Legend…
AC: I heard Q-Tip?
Common: Q-Tip. Saha. It’s talent, and the person who puts that together is Kanye. He is a master at putting different worlds together, from his first album—putting Mos Def and Freeway on a song. So anyway, I think GOOD Music—man, it’s about all these people just coming together and putting together some of the best music possible. I really feel good. On the album, I’m doing stuff that I never, ever do. It’s just fun, it’s just fun.
AC: So there are a lot of happy people, including myself, because the highly anticipated album Cruel Summer finally dropped. How do you feel about the project?
Common: Oh, man, I’m feeling very excited to be a part of it. I think it’s a great piece of work, just seeing all these artists that contributed, giving what they give. Everyone wanted to shine and do well. Of course, I wanted to be on more songs, but you know, I laid my verses, and some stuff just didn’t make the album. But I’m just grateful to be on it and looking forward to what we’re going to do in the future.
AC: Yes, sir, we’re looking forward to it, man. Let me change topic for a second. I went to Haiti for the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, in part due to you. You took a trip to Haiti that inspired me, so I went. Talk a little bit about some of the other things you’d like to do to shift good, positive energy to the planet.
Common: Yeah, for me, it’s just about spreading God’s love, spreading love to each human being and encouraging each human being to know that they got a purpose. And the purpose is a divine purpose, and it’s not just on a basic level. Whether the people in Haiti, the young kids in Chicago that [are] going through violence, or whether you’re in Atlanta or L.A. or Europe—it’s not even color barriers for me—I go to where I know there’s a lot of turmoil and pain. And that’s what we’ve seen in Haiti. And I really want to inspire and feed them something that’s really godly more than anything. It’s not like I can raise enough money to save the country. But I can raise some money. I can raise awareness. But it’s really just getting people to be empowered, empowering themselves, believing in a higher power, believing in God, believing in themselves. And the people of Haiti already believed in both.
AC: Common, I always appreciate you, family. I guess I’ve always wanted to ask you: what is that one thing that inspires you to do everything that you do?
Common: Well, I’ll say my belief in God, my love for God, and knowing that we as people have a purpose here to contribute to the Earth, to contribute to people’s goodness and good life. With that being said, we obviously feel destiny and purpose and do what we do, but within that are ways to help others and to inspire others and to support and encourage people.
My belief in God is definitely the foundation, and along with that just being around my mother, who’s a teacher. Teachers give so much to the future and to youth. So, when you see somebody make that type of sacrifice towards work—just parents in general, what they got to give to their kids is a lot—I’m inspired, man, to give and help those who didn’t or don’t have opportunities. And even those that may have some opportunities, [to] help them achieve their dreams.
AC: And I know you have your own nonprofit organization. Talk a little bit about Common Ground Foundation, Com.
Common: The Common Ground Foundation is based upon what I’m saying. Taking youth and using creative arts to help them fulfill their dreams. These youth usually come from the inner cities. Like the inner city of Chicago, we’ve been able to help with a lot of children out there, young people out there. And also, we’ve been able to contribute to organizations in L.A. that are doing some of the same things we’re doing. So we support other organizations, as well. But it’s really about just encouraging the youth, supporting them, giving them an outlet so that they can say, “Hey, I want to do this in my life,” and “I enjoy doing this,” and “This is what I want to pursue,” and go for it.
AC: Very nice. Good stuff. So listen, we gotta say congratulations to you, Season two of Hell on Wheels, it’s on AMC—talk to us about the show and your character, too, Com.
Common: Well, actually, season two [of] Hell on Wheels is heightening, is growing, is getting better. And along with that, my character—his name is Elam Ferguson—he’s starting to get in a higher position, but with that [transition], he’s really trying to figure out where he fits in.
Sometimes you come from your community, and then you rise. It’s like, okay, when do you get back rooted into your community? A lot of times you can rise in the ranks and maybe leave the core of where you come from. So it’s a balance that Elam’s been trying to find. And by the same token, he’s dealing with being in love with a white woman [whom] he really can’t express love with, because of the conditions. So it’s a lot going on with my character.
Each character’s really starting to develop. For me, I relate to a lot of the different characters. I love the show, man. I’m really getting into the show.
AC: You’ve accomplished a lot, man. You’ve conquered a lot. Film, TV, music, documentaries. You’re an author; you have a book. At any point during this evolution, you doing all of this, this whole growth process, have you felt like an outsider?
Common: Oh, yeah, definitely. When I did the album Electric Circus, I felt like people were like, “Man, what is this? What are you doing? We’re not into this.” I felt outside then.
There [are] times when I put out an album, and I don’t hear my songs really on the radio a lot, and it’s like, Dang, I ain’t inside that world. But I’m still moving some people or touching some people. I tend to look at the good things about what’s going on in life, and I do that the best I can. At the end of the day—I have felt outside at times—but always man, I keep my eyes on the prize and know that I can get inside if I choose. I do choose to sometimes, so that’s when the work comes in.
AC: All right, beautiful. Last thing before I let you go, and you can take your time on this one, too. Fill in the blank: I am rare because ________?
Common: Because God created me to be an individual. And I am a Chicago dude that grew up the way I grew up and was named Rashid and was given a certain purpose and mission. So, I am rare for those reasons.
AC: Thank you for the interview, man.
Common: Yes, sir.