Kendrick Lamar, YG and Chance The Rapper have all been praised for keeping hip-hop’s political agenda alive in 2016—and rightly so—but there’s one veteran emcee who’s been fighting the good fight since way before this calendar year, perhaps without the recognition he truly deserves.
I’m talking about Common.
Now in his 25th season, the Chicago native is sounding as polished and purposeful as he’s ever been. Since winning a GRAMMY for his “Glory” collaboration with John Legend, a song off the Selma soundtrack that also turned out be his biggest Billboard hit since 2000’s “The Light,” Common has doubled down on his mission to “rewrite the Black American story.”
For starters, his upcoming 11th album (out Nov. 4) is titled Black America Again. Common describes it as “God music, social political music, a perspective of blackness.” And with a supporting cast that includes Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins, Stevie Wonder, Marsha Ambrosius and Bilal, it’s also shaping up to be his best body of work in years. “I’ve just been really inspired,” he toldThe FADER.
That newfound inspiration radiated from television sets throughout the country last night as Common performed his “Black America Again” single alongside BJ The Chicago Kid (filling in for Stevie Wonder) on The Tonight Show. With a hood over his head—a nod to Trayvon Martin—and a stony expression on his face, Common stared into the camera, into the eyes of the American people, for almost 20 seconds before saying one word.
The stage had been stripped down from its conventional set-up, situating Common in the center of a circle made up of his old Soulquarians brothers, The Roots, and a few violinists, all clad in black hoodies. As he navigated the circle, the camera followed, never once straying from this hooded black man and his tales of stolen land, slavery and Sandra Bland. Because who hears a story is just as important as how you rewrite it—and this is a story that needs to be heard.
As BJ The Chicago Kid added his own soulful touch to Stevie Wonder’s bridge, Common stared into the camera for almost 30 seconds this time, his eyes asking, “are you listening?”
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: YouTube