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Interview: Common – Hip-Hop’s Leading Renaissance Man

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Over the past decade, Common has slowly evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man. As one of hip-hop’s few credible actors, he has graced the “silver screen” – in the midst of his GRAMMY-winning career – with several memorable performances: Date Night (2010), as Detective Collins; Wanted (2008), as the Gunsmith; and Smokin’ Aces (2007), as Sir Ivy. With Just Wright, however, Common transitions into the role of film headliner — showcasing a sensitive, loving side, as Scott McKnight, alongside fellow hip-hop laureate Queen Latifah.

In the midst of a promotional campaign for Just Wright, Common managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on lessons in love, the film’s historical significance, and his growth as an actor.


With the release of Just Wright, you and Queen Latifah made history, as the co-stars of the first major studio film headlined by two prominent members of the hip-hop generation. What does this particular historical moment hold for you?

You know, when somebody first brought it to my attention, it kind of touched me, because they had just seen the preview for Just Wright at the movie theatre. Can you believe it? Two hip-hop artists starring in a movie? Who would have known? [laughing] It’s a blessing, because I look at myself not only as a hip-hop artist, but as an actor also. I didn't think about it that way, but there’s a blessing that comes from that – coming from hip-hop and being able to take it to new levels.

When you first read the script, what compelled you to attach yourself to the project? And in what ways do you think you most identified with your character, Scott McKnight?

Well, the script had a lot of heart, and it was well written, and I really liked the story. I really enjoyed reading it and I found myself looking forward to what was going to happen. And then playing an NBA player – which was a dream of mine as a kid – was also fun to do. So those were some of the things that sold me on the project. And then, it was great to play a leading man, especially in a romantic way. Just Wright really gave me the opportunity to show the diverse aspects of me as an actor.

Since Just Wright is branded as a romantic comedy, I want to focus on its two central elements: “romance” and “comedy.” Starting with “romance,” what lessons about love do you think the film taught you?

Well, I pulled a lot of things from the film. But I think the central message about love is that it is something that comes from the inside. You love a person because of who they are and not what they look like. And you may be attracted to what somebody looks like, but you've got to love them from the inside. And I think that is something that I need to be reminded of and we all need to be reminded of at times. Like you have to love from the inside out. And beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. That was another theme of the movie. In life, I have learned that you also have to first be able to love yourself, in order to love the person you're with.

And focusing on the “comedy” aspect, what was the most hilarious behind-the-scenes moment that you shared with Queen Latifah?

Oh, she was always joking and calling me “the most interesting man alive”! [laughing] Have you ever seen that commercial? It's a Dos Equis commercial about the most interesting man alive! [laughing continues] And she always would call me that, because this guy's real. You have to see the commercial to get the joke, but it was something that she always did. And we would also play cards and drink a little red wine. So we had fun times – playing ball and stuff.

When you look at your previous film experiences along your eight-year acting journey, in what ways do you think you have grown the most as an actor?

Well, this time, I realized that being a lead has a lot of responsibilities attached to the position. You have to be on, every day. It's like being a starter in a basketball game. You start the game, and you've got to start the game playing well. It also means that there won’t really be too many stars that can come in after you. You are the leading person, so you have to lead and work on your skills every day. You also have to be able to be natural and go with the flow of things.

As you were filming, is there a particular scene where you felt or recognized a new level of confidence in your acting?


Man, probably not until the end of the movie. That scene with Theo Scott, when I was conducting an interview. That was one of the last days, and I felt that. I also felt confident during certain moments of the movie, but you know, as an artist, you always are trying to go up, you know?

As part of the online promotional campaign for the film, two mixtapes were released. Although you do not have any tracks on Volume 1 and Volume 2, what song from your catalog do you think would be a perfect fit?

I think I have several songs that could fit in with the film’s theme, because you know I do love songs! [laughing] So, I think “The Light.” On Volume 3, I have a new song called "Next Time" – featuring Queen Latifah. We also put the "Come Close" remix on there.

How did the idea of a mixtape promotion come about?

That was something I thought would be very cool, especially at the grass roots level. I felt it would be a good way of promoting the film and getting people to talk about the movement and getting them aware of the release. I thought it would be a good idea, so I approached the team, and then I approached Twilite Tone, and I submitted some songs, and he would submit songs, and then we just decided on the songs we thought would be the best. After that, he put the mix together. And that was that.

Several years ago, you made your acting debut in Brown Sugar, a film for which you won your first GRAMMY: "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop) – featuring Erykah Badu. Stealing the infamous question from Sidney, Sanaa Lathan’s character: When did you first fall in love with hip-hop?

I think I really fell in love with hip-hop when Run-D.M.C. hit the scene in ’83. That's when I really fell in love with it. It was around the same time that LL came out, too. So that was a crazy time for hip-hop. And I want to say, I knew I wanted to be a hip-hop artist when I heard Rakim.

Very briefly, I would also like to discuss your 2002 album, Electric Circus, which has been credited from expanding the hip hop template. What hopes and visions do you have for the future of hip-hop?

I would like to see hip-hop keep growing, obviously. But I would like to see more artists doing different types of music and getting mainstream opportunities. I know that mainstream is a different thing now, because you've got the Internet. But it would be nice to hear some creative songs on the radio and some quality Mos Def songs. That is not to say that no one is being creative, but it would be good to hear from them on the radio and see their videos, wherever videos are being played. One of the things I’ve always loved about hip-hip is that we had these different images and characters. You had Big Daddy Kane. You had Biz Markie. You had EPMD. All of them had their themes and characters. I think hip-hop is open for diversity and diverse themes.

On Like Water for Chocolate, you recorded a song entitled "Time Travelin' (A Tribute To Fela)." And with the recent Tony nominations garnered by his biographical Broadway musical, what reflections do you have on Fela’s influence on your career?

Well, Fela was one of the biggest influences on my career because of what he reflected in his music – the struggle for freedom. His soul pour throughout his work, and it is just incredible to think about all the things he achieved. But I first got introduced to his music through Black Thought. I learned at that point: music is so revolutionary, not just in concept and ideas, but in its mentality. Fela recorded songs that lasted fourteen minutes. And for me, small acts like that mean a big deal to me. His artistry just opened me up to music more, in ways like John Coltrane did.

For more information on Common, visit his official website.

For more information on Just Wright, visit the film's official website.

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About Clayton Perry

  • Brent Buffone

    Common, you mai nigga! Keep it up brotha!