The event was hosted by a student-led organization, Campus Events and Entertainment Distinguished Speakers and Headliners, at the University of Texas.
Hogg Auditorium filled quickly after hundreds waited outside for more than an hour before the doors opened. As the crowd gathered, fans quoted their favorite Common songs and exchanged feelings of anticipation.
“It is an honor,” said Ian Durben, a chairman of the organizing group, “to introduce the King of Conscious Hip Hop.”
With his fist held high, Common began by announcing that of all the avenues he’s successfully pursued thus far — rapper, author, actor and film producer — he is first and foremost an activist.
Common rapped a playful freestyle that referenced his appreciation for Austin life and his excitement about speaking at UT. The musical icebreaker evoked loud cheers, but the atmosphere shifted to quiet attentiveness when Common brought his speech to a more serious subject.
“Believing in your purpose,” Common emphasized, “is your purpose.”
The crowd braced themselves — some with notebooks in hand — to cling to the once in a lifetime opportunity to hear a perspective from a prolific artist.
He described what he referred to as his archetype for success: “Find your path. Believe in your path. Live your path.”
Believing in your purpose is your purpose.
His speech also revealed a softer side, as he recalled moments of insecurity, like when he left the 2006 Grammys empty-handed after being nominated for five awards and what he called his “life changing” break up with musician Erykah Badu.
“I appreciated Common’s authentic and honest approach,” said audience member Ashley Wearing. “He talked about dealing with issues of self-doubt in an approachable and candid way. It reminded me that we are all human.”
Common is one of the remaining rappers from hip hop’s Golden Age, having worked with with legendary artists like Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur.
While juggling his artistic talents, Common started a nonprofit called Common Ground, which is based in the Southside of Chicago. According to a 2006 Chicago Tribune article, only 3 out of 100 African American and Latino male freshmen in Chicago high schools graduate from college before they’re 25. Common Ground facilitates relationships between youth and creative arts, so that they can apply their artistic passion to careers in the fields of their dreams.
His passion for the arts has extended into tangible relationships between young professional artists like Chance The Rapper and hundreds of other young people who are involved in the organization.
Find your path. Believe in your path. Live your path.
Common kickstarted his music career unapologetically woke to America’s issues with conscious lyrics that rhythmically bring dark truths to light.
In his iconic love song, I Used to Love H.E.R., Common writes of the evolution of hip hop. The song was released in 1994, but remains relevant within the genre and brings two questions to light: “What is hip hop’s role?” and “Where is hip hop headed?” I was able to ask the man behind the music, himself.
The only thing [hip hop] owes us is to balance us as human beings
“Hip hop is art – expression,” he responded, “and I am not one to tell any artist that they are responsible to do something. Their only responsibility is to create.”
Hip hop is the most listened to genre in the world and is highly scrutinized. Hip hop’s evolution spans dance beats, politics, spirituality, and seemingly most subjects in between. Common discussed his excitement about newer artists and expressed hope for the future of music and activism.
It’s always inspirational to hear someone who’s made it tell you that you can make it, too.
After Common’s speech, the audience asked questions. Each person recalled specific ways that Common played a role in their lives or the lives of others.
One student even went so far as to pass Common his own rap album, and told him, “Without you I would not have become the rapper I am today.”
Student organizers eventually were forced to cut the Q&A session short because there were too many students and not enough time for Common to respond to each question. However, that didn’t discourage several students from waiting for a chance to see him one more time, outside Hogg Auditorium, long after the event was finished.
Jessica Bathea, a UT senior, stood outside waiting for Common’s reappearance and explained, “It’s always inspirational to hear someone who’s made it tell you that you can make it too.”
While some artists mock today’s hip hop artists, Common instead encourages them. Hip hop, just like any art, is a reflection of the times. “The only thing [hip hop] owes us is to balance us as human beings,” Common said. Mocking artists like Desiigner for the use of heavy beats and oftentimes incomprehensible lyrics distracts from the gateways that these artists introduce.
Young hip hop-pop artists have transitioned by creating songs that are immediately appreciated because of their sound instead of their lyrics. The genius of this is the ability to disguise heavy truths behind heavy bass. Listened to consciously, many young artists weave in intricate details that question things like addiction, loneliness, and the state of politics.
Hip hop is multifaceted and the artists that use it as a creative medium are talented individuals who express themselves by any means necessary.
Do what you are passionate about and believe in it.
Common encouraged UT students, “People like to quote the Civil Rights movements and all that, but right now we are at a critical time in the world. Donald Trump cannot be president,” he paused while the stadium voiced agreement, “I’ve seen you guys rally when you see Black men dying in the streets. I know you guys are passionate. It is you guys who are going to change the world for the better.”
While people idolize the past, it is vital that we intentionally bring ourselves into our present circumstances. In the time of Black Lives Matter, Common offered a word of advice to young activists. “Now what do we do after Twitter and Instagram?” he asked the crowd, “Do what you are passionate about and believe in it.”