Common Talks 13th, Social Activism
Common is really living up to his original rap name “Common Sense” these days.
The rapper’s activism anthem “Letter to the Free” is the end-title track on 13th and has already been nominated for a 2016 Critics’ Choice Documentary Award for “Best Song in a Documentary.” The song’s lyrics tackle America’s racial divide and reflect the film’s focus on the prison system as a new form of slavery in America. It’s also featured on Common’s own latest album, “Black America Again.” Take a listen:
We caught up with Common to chat about the single, his invovlement with the project, and how his affiliation with Ava Duvernay movies have shaped his musical direction and activism…
What made you want to become involved with 13th in the way that you have?
13th hit me in a way…it was like I know some of this, I didn’t know about this ALEC stuff, I didn’t even know the 13th amendment said that — I’ll be honest — I didn’t even realize that the 13th amendment said that if you’re a “criminal,” you can [legally] be a slave. So all that information, I’m still continuing to learn. It’s been an awakening for the country. This is part of American history and the same way we teach our kids about the people who came to revolutionize this country, we need to teach them about slavery too. We need to teach them about slavery and how that ties into where we are now. If they can see that, they would be able to put two and two together and start functioning differently.
Your name has become more and more synonymous with “wokeness” in a sense since your involvement in Selma a few years back. How do you feel that movie experience prepared you for projects like 13th and even placing some of the messages you have in your latest album?
Well, Selma was definitely one of the moments that changed my life forever. One of the greatest experiences of my life. One of the reasons is being introduced to the Civil Rights Movement in another way. It’s more than just researching and reading it in textbooks. You’re talking to people. Ambassador Andrew Young came and had a talk the first day of our rehearsal and said “What are you willing to die for? Live for that.” He said that was the whole mentality of the people of the Civil Rights movement. “We’re willing to die for freedom, so we’re going to live for freedom. We’re dedicating each day toward that.”
One of the practical things I was able to connect with was the fact that each and every person that was a part of that movement, each day they contributed something towards fighting for that freedom. They dedicated their lives to saying “okay, some part of my day will be dedicated towards that.” I felt like, I have been doing things and putting my spirit and energy into wanting to see change, but I had to do more. I had to contribute my days into being more active and more present — not only in the music.
So then, aside from the music, what ways did you begin pursuing to be more active?
That made me think about things, and question how can I use my creativity not only towards the art that I’m doing that is socio-political work, but how can I use my mind towards these communities. So that made me start going into communities and start to listen and made me more political than I had ever been. Before I would think — “Okay, I need to vote for the president.” And “I’ll vote for this person I know about.” But now, I need to know. If I have a problem with police injustice and police killing Black people, I need to know what things I can do policy-wise to help change things. Who is the person that selects the police chief? Who is the person that sets up the training for the policemen in this state and that state? Not that I’m going to know everything, but even if it’s connecting with groups that do know, so that I can get that information and see how I can contribute my name, celebrity, whatever access I have, and creativity towards that change.
What action has 13th pushed you to take?
With this movie, I’ll put it this way: If I’m going to talk it and rap it, I’ll have to be it. So I will be at somebody’s prison — just building with brothers and sisters about getting out and what life will be like getting out and trying to provide help in that way.
I even realized this morning from Kim Fox, the State’s Attorney of Chicago — she comes from Cabrini-Green in Chicago so she’s for the people, she comes from it — she says one of the biggest issues is, they don’t assist people when they’re about to get out of jail, so when they come out, they’re shocked. And it’s hard to get jobs, hard to get housing, you can’t vote in certain places, so then you feel second-class, and then you end up going back to that same cycle. So, if someone has been convicted of a crime, when they’re about to get out, when do we start training them to work on that? I want to help with figuring that out.
Nice! Great to see a celeb taking his influence and really focusing on making a positive impact with it, right?
Have YOU taken a listen to “Black America Again?” What did you think?