Well before the government declared the country to be in recession, Common - the Chicago hip-hop artist - was already chronicling its pain.
He took pen to paper, offering a synthesized, hook-inspired mosaic of music in his eighth studio CD, “Universal Mind Control” (G.O.O.D. Music/Geffen).
“I initially wrote this, because the nation was in such a dark space,” says Common. “The economy was slowing. We were facing challenges politically and socially. There’s so much suffering. I wanted to write something inspiring, enlightening and illuminating. I wanted this CD to feel like therapy.”
With Common, 37, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., fans get a bald, bearded wordsmith who is among the architects set on broadening hip-hop’s stereotypical boundaries. They get a Grammy-winning artist who knows how to wow a crowd with raps steeped in the cadences of spoken word. They get a poet, a budding actor, an activist and an artist who has built a career on a template of thoughtful lyrics and social responsibility. His is a musical legacy that notes the dollar bill but doesn’t linger at the altar of materialism, misogyny and crassness. Common seems to be about peace and love.
Since his first release, “Can I Borrow A Dollar?,” Common has deftly managed the delicate balance of hip-hop’s kinetic creativity and chronic excesses. In his second album, “Resurrection,” he delivered “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” a critical commentary on hip-hop music and the broader culture. He came from the underground but surfaced into mainstream notice after partnering with Kanye West, who produced his albums “Be” (2005) and “Finding Forever” (2007).
Common recorded parts of Universal Mind Control (2008) at South Beach Studios.
“I love Miami,” he says. “I was down there working with the Neptunes. I would go into the studio and look out the window and see all that sunshine. It just allows you to release,” he says. “It was a fitting place to record an album that I wanted to be inspirational and uplifting.”
Away from the studio, Common supports PETA, vegetarianism and HIV/AIDS campaigns and his Common Ground Foundation, which is dedicated to youth empowerment. He was also featured in the “Yes We Can” video that supported Barack Obama’s campaign.
“I think my greatest responsibility is to the youth,” he says. “I try to encourage them and listen to them and help them to be better people. I try to help them be lovers of self, readers, intelligent people, professionals. I help them to dream.”
Common created “Universal Mind Control” in between advancing his blossoming acting career. He"s already taken on quirky gangster flicks (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Street Kings” and “American Gangster”) and stylish action flicks (“Wanted”), and now he’s diving headlong into blockbusters with the upcoming “Terminator Salvation.” There"s also a juicy role in a “major studio comedy” about which he remains gently evasive until the project and/or his role is greenlighted.
“I am so inspired by the whole acting process, from the acting class to the auditions to actually getting the part,” Common says. “I am hungry for acting. I see myself becoming one of the greatest actors of our time a la Will, Denzel, Leonardo. I have been really trying to choose roles that I can sink my teeth into and learn from the people around me and grow.”
Still, music remains a huge component of his DNA.
“They are both ways to express yourself artistically,” he says. “I am still passionate about music. I still love going on stage and connecting with real people.”