Despite being a little under halfway full, the energy in the Bren Events Center last Thursday was palpable as audience members excitedly awaited the arrival of guest speaker Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., better known by his stage name Common.
The event, dubbed “Common Conversations,” was the latest installment of the “New Narratives: Conversations on Identities and Culture.” Prompted by racial incidents that occurred last year, New Narratives is a series that seeks to spread cultural knowledge to students and help them acquire skills in intergroup communications.
The conversation was hosted by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas A. Parham, who regarded Common as one of “hip-hop’s most innovative and positive voices.”
When the idea for the New Narratives series was first conceived, Common was the first rapper to come to mind for Dr. Parham, who commended the artist’s body of work for providing “penetrating insights into what it is that we are all struggling with as part of the human family.”
Sporting a light blue jacket and snapback, the 42-year-old hip-hop artist and actor took the stage as those in attendance gave him a tremendous standing ovation. A multi-Grammy Award winner, the socially conscious rapper spent the next hour engaging with Dr. Parham in a talk that covered a myriad of topics, from his musical origins and spirituality with God to the feud he had with fellow artist Drake back in 2012.
Born in the Southside of Chicago, Common’s ambition came from watching those around him have an impact on the world, and realizing that he also wanted to make something of himself and be acknowledged by others. Citing his early musical influences as Michael Jackson, KRS-One and Run D.M.C., it wasn’t long until Common ventured into the hip-hop genre for himself.
“Through hip-hop I felt a true connection and a way to express myself. That was the first time I really felt like I could express the passion in some of the things that I never expressed to anybody through hip-hop. It was just something that I loved to do, [something] that I was passionate about, [a] natural way for me to be who I was,” Common said.
A devout follower and man of faith, Common has no reservations about his strong spiritual beliefs evident in his music and other endeavors.
“I don’t feel like it’s inappropriate to say that I believe in God and to express what God means to me,” he said.
“I’m not trying to be politically correct, but I’m like man that’s what I believe in, that’s my faith.”
Aside from his relationship with God, Common’s core set of values include the principles of love, trust and respect.
“I believe that love is like the greatest gift we have, because if you love the creator and you love yourself, that start right there, is amazing. Because if you really truly love yourself you’re actually going to be able to love others. When you feeling good about yourself, you don’t even think about hating on other people, it’s not in your make-up,” he said.
Tying in with the themes of trust and respect, the Chicago native stressed the importance of being honest as he had inadvertently hurt several of those he had held dear by not being truthful.
As commendable as these notions are, Dr. Parham noted that it is often difficult to transcend several demographic barriers, such as age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity with these values in mind. Acknowledging that the ability to practice love and respect can’t be acquired overnight, Common stated that the entire process is something that an individual must continually work on every day in order to better their self and grow as a person. He explained that it may be inevitable that in certain situations a person may fail to adhere to these values of love and respect, but these instances should be seen as learning experiences that one should store for future use.
“I believe that it’s easy to be nice to people when you’re feeling yourself and everything is good, but when things are tough, you feeling broke, things aren’t going right for you that day or maybe in that moment. How do you treat another individual then? How do you treat the person that doesn’t have anything to offer you?” Common challenged.
Referencing a feud that he had with Drake in 2012, Common revealed that there were also instances in which he had difficulty staying true to his principles. During the Grammys that year, Common ran into Drake backstage. Though tensions were initially high, Drake apparently handled the situation in such a mature manner that it prompted Common to realize that hostilities between Drake were not worth it and to let go of the dispute.
In dealing with anger, Common does his best to let go of it and move on with his life whenever he experiences it. Anger is an emotion that he deems counterproductive, and one that fails to do good for any party involved.
“Every time I reacted in anger it got me somewhere that I didn’t want to be. If your goal is to be successful in life and achieve something, you can’t do it mad,” he said.
Following the conversation, Parham opened the discussion to questions from the audience. Students that picked up their tickets the previous week were allowed to submit a question, with only the top five being given the floor.
Amongst the topics covered were how the rapper remains grounded in spite of his success and what drives him to continually give back to the community.
As per tradition, following the discussion, Dr. Parham led Common in forming the “Rip ‘Em Eaters” hand sign and performing the “Zot Zot Zot!” to loud cheers from the crowd. In a special surprise, Common treated the crowd to an impromptu freestyle based on the word integrity, as suggested by Dr. Parham.
Dropping bars such as “Integrity when I rhyme, I think about integrity when I come to UC Irvine,” Common displayed the lyrical prowess and wit that has made him such a prominent figure in hip-hop today.
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