When we heard that our rapper BAE, Common would be at Essence Music Festival this year, we knew that we had to snag some time with him backstage because…obviously! All of the heavens opened up and showered down blessings upon us when Common walked backstage. He was confident, sturdy and golden. With his acting career taking off, we knew he’d have a lot to talk about, but we didn’t realize he would open up about the all-too-real lyrics from a song he wrote about an abortion he’d experienced with a former girlfriend.
He smiled and graciously said hello, ready to answer questions that the eager journalists piled onto the floor in front of him had to ask. It was overwhelming, but Common was calm and deliberate, glancing around the room, making sure to connect eyes with each of us, if only for a moment.
And a moment was all we had with the rapper turned actor, so we all made the most of it, asking him questions that lead to larger discussions. Check out what Common shared with us about being an activist, how abortion helped him find his purpose and his latest movie roles (spoiler alert: he’s in a new movie with Will Smith and Viola Davis)!
You’re an artist that’s been around for a while and your evolution has been amazing. I want to know why is it so important to you to marry your activism with your artistry?
Common: Thank you. I think it’s very important because at one point in my artist journey, I discovered that I had a purpose and that purpose was to speak the truth and reflect God as much as I can. Whatever I do learn, the perfections, the imperfections speak to that. And through art, I knew that I could have influence.
It was one of those situations when I actually wrote a song about abortion, it was called “Retrospect For Life.”
“I look into mother’s stomach, wonder if you are a boy or a girl
Turnin this woman’s womb into a tomb
But she and I agree, a seed we don’t need
You would’ve been much more than a mouth to feed
But someone, I woulda fed this information I read
to someone, my life for you I woulda had to leave
Instead I lead you to death
I’m sorry for takin your first breath, first step, and first cry
But I wasn’t prepared mentally nor financially
Havin a child shouldn’t have to bring out the man in me
Plus I wanted you to be raised within a family”
Lauryn Hill was singing on the chorus and I had people come up to me after that song was released and was like, “I decided to have my baby because that song really affected my life” and that’s when I realized that through art I could really improve, change people’s lives just by telling my truth. It’s not like I’m up here saying, “I’m perfect.”
I was talking about a situation that I went through and having an abortion and it was like, I really felt the power of music and being an artist and having this platform even just the honor of coming up here and speaking to you all. I want to be able to say something.
I remember KRS-One said this in a song, “You think I’mma grab the mic and waste my people’s time? Step off with that weak shit” Anyway, that stuff used to affect me because I was like, “Man if I get a microphone then I need to say something.” Music is fun; entertainment is fun, but it can also be inspiring and I feel like God has afforded me a platform to stand on this stage and I better make use of this time. I don’t want to waste you all’s time and I feel like it’s my duty.
What are you working on next?
Common: I just finished filming Barbershop 3, which I was really excited to be a part of. I hadn’t done a comedy ever really. I was part of a movie called Date Night, but this was like coming home. The story was based in Chicago and it’s being around all these great, talented actors and comedians from Ice Cube to Cedric the Entertainer to Eve to Nicki Minaj to Deon Cole to Regina Hall, it was really something for me working with Malcolm Lee as the director and I was excited because the story is dealing with Chicago violence, but Barbershop is a comedy, so I always learned that a lot of comedy is truth.
Richard Pryor is one of my favorite comedians and he always would tell real stories and you would get nuts about them, but it was funny as hell and that’s was I really getting experience in Barbershop. I’m also a part of a movie called Suicide Squad, which is a DC comic movie starring Will Smith, Viola Davis and Jared Leto as the joker and I got all these tattoos on my head in the movie, it’s dope man. My character is on some other shit, but it’s dope.
I also did a movie called Being Charlie. It’s directed by Rob Reiner. It’s an independent film. Y’all know Rob Reiner from All In The Family. They used to call him Meathead, but he directed Stand By Me and A Few Good Men. He’s a really talented director. I’m also going to be doing music for some for the projects I’m into. I’m in a movie with a working title called, Coco, directed by RZA, starring Azealia Banks and Jill Scott.
And what about music?
Common: I’m working on some music projects, not only my own album project, but like I said, doing music supervision for some of the films I’ve been working in and coming up with soundtracks so that’s the next plateau for some of the things that we want to do because I like putting music to visuals a lot now and I’m thinking of doing some projects where we do music theater and look out for that too. So those are some of the future projects and we’ll continue to have Common Ground, which is my foundation in Chicago and I’m not the only person doing the work. We actually have some people doing some incredible work for Common Ground, so I want to salute you too and that’s for our youth in Chicago and abroad.