Interview: Common

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Born in Chicago on March 13, 1972, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. is said to be one of seven children fathered by the former pro-basketball player of the same name. After dropping out of Florida A&M, he changed his name to Common Sense before making his debut as a hip-hop artist by releasing a CD entitled “Can I Borrow a Dollar?�

His next album, “Resurrection,� sparked a feud with West Coast gangsta’ rapper Ice Cube, tensions which were only quelled after the two sat down with Minister Louis Farrakhan. He shortened his name to just Common after some losers in a garage band sued him, claiming to have the exclusive trademark for “Common Sense.�

In 2003, he won his first Grammy for “Love of My Life,� a duet he performed with his then fiancée Erykah Badu for the film “Brown Sugar.� Ironically, the relationship ended soon after the song’s release. Having mellowed with age, Common has now come to swear off he misogyny, militancy and marijuana which marked his early career. Turning a new leaf, he’s also embraced vegetarianism and become an animal rights activist.

He’s even expanded himself professionally, adding modeling (for The Gap) and acting to his repertoire. His first film appearance was in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and later this year he’ll be appearing opposite a trio of Oscar-winners, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, a crime saga with $100,000,000 budget. Here, he reflects on his latest role, as Sir Ivy in Smokin’ Aces.

BSN: Thanks for the time, brother.
C: Yeah, thank you. How you doin’?

BSN: Very well. The first thing I want to say that I caught you performing on Jay Leno and I was surprised to see my son’s sax teacher, Justin Robinson, playing with you.
C: [Laughs] Yeah, we try to get the best musicians possible, and Justin is a great musician, man, a great player. You must have been surprised to see him out there, then.

BSN: Yeah, and I was just as surprised to see your co-star, Jeremy Piven, playing congas.
C: Yeah, he actually came to a concert of mine before I got the movie. When he saw me perform, he told the director that he thought that I could really rock the role. So, he really supported me and we became real cool. And when I found out he played drums and percussion, and that he really wanted to be with the band, I said, “Yo, we can work it out. This is perfect opportunity to do it, because it’s for Smokin’ Aces.� It worked out good, man. We were very happy with the whole performance.

BSN: So, how do you feel about your first acting role?
C: Man, I feel excited. I just feel grateful to be a part of such a quality piece of work and to just be around such great actors. It’s exciting to be able to go to a theater and see myself on the big screen for the first time.

Even though you’ve already enjoyed quite a career as a rap star?
C: Man, it’s an incredible thrill. I woke up so early on the day of the premier, and now I’m up early again doing interviews. I’m just excited about being a part of this movie.

How would you describe your character?
C: My character, Sir Ivy, is the right-hand man of Jeremy’s character, Buddy Israel. Buddy has become hated, and I’m his bodyguard, a very noble type of guy, but I’m a killer. And all these assassins are coming to get Buddy, and I’m like on the defense until a twist occurs and I just have to go for mine. But I’m this quiet killer who’s noble.

You’re also up for some Grammys. Kanye [West] says he thinks you deserve to win. How do you feel about it?
C: Man, I would love to get another Grammy. It’s always good to be honored. We don’t make music or movies to get the awards, but any honor feels good when people give you awards, and when the critics say the material’s good. But I guess the true test of an artist is that when they don’t say it’s good, you gotta keep going, and continue to do what you believe.

Staying with that theme, I want to credit you for becoming a socially-conscious rapper, and succeeding in spite of BET saying they won’t air your music and others like Talib Kweli and Dead Prez because it’s not dumb enough for their demographic.
C: I don’t feel that we’re too smart. I feel that the audience is smart, but they don’t get to hear that music enough. But when they do hear it, it’s food for their soul. Our people are born intelligent, and naturally divine. But a lot of video channels and radio stations don’t want to change to music and art that’s conscious. That’s why it’s overlooked. So, I don’t think our people are ignorant. Those that are exposed to it, will become aware, and rise.

You were in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, where he said at the outset he was bringing together a lot of his favorite, socially-aware artists.
C: Yeah, it was a blessing to be a part of that. That was a special day, and it got recorded. Man, you had Erykah Badu, The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, The Fugees and many more. And Dave Chappelle, for that matter. That’s history. That’s classic.

Yeah, it was stunning. I felt the music ended up eclipsing the comedy. I gave it four stars, but I believe the music overshadowed the humor.
C: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, I think that’s what it was about for him, honestly.
Getting the music out there. He knows he can sell his comedy when he needs to.

Tell me about your conversion to vegetarianism.
C: Your body is you. That’s your temple. So, eating wisely helps you function for the day. If you want to look good and feel good, you gotta eat good. What you put into your temple, man, is very important. I learned that later on in life, but I started putting that into practice. I’m not perfect in my eating. I just try to live healthily, and to take care of myself so that during this lifetime I can live good.

What was it like working opposite Alicia [Keys] in Smokin’ Aces? Did you know her before?
C: I had known her for a little while before. She’s someone that I respected, and is a good person in this industry. You know, we both supported each other because we both had nervousness and excitement. We had some of the same emotions. She is definitely a talented girl, and she was just a beautiful person, man, it was something to work with her. There was good bonding. I just felt her, and we kinda’ supported each other.

I know you’re originally from Chicago. I used to work for Channel 12, WTTW there. But do you live in L.A. now?
C: Yeah, pretty much.

My West Coast buddy, Jimmy Bayan would like to know where in L.A. you live?
C: It’s funny, I don’t even know exactly what my neighborhood is called, but it’s in the Hancock area. I go back and forth between L.A. and New York. I stay in both places.

So, what’s on the horizon for you?
C: I just launched a hat line called, “Soji.�  They’re out now, in a boutique store in New York, La Coppola Storta.  But they’ll be available on the web soon, too These are high end quality hats, man. They’re handmade in Italy. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m really proud of them. It’s looking bright.

What advice do you have for young bloods who want to follow in your footsteps?
C: Man, just believe in yourself, be able to dream, and know that there’s going to be valleys and peaks. Always stay centered, and know that God is the key, the beginning and end of everything you do.

Well, for the time, Common, and the best of luck in your career, with the music, the movies, the Grammys and all of your many endeavors.
C: Yeah, I appreciate that, man, and I’m grateful for the time. Keep pushing out the good stuff.

Next time I see Justin I’ll tell him I spoke with you.
C: Yeah, tell him we hollered.  And we’re definitely going to be playing together again soon.

Well, if you’re performing anywhere around here, I’ll definitely come check you out.
C: Okay, for sure, man, have a good one, all right?

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