Common has been around for a while, releasing his first studio album almost 30 years ago. In that time, his sound hasn’t become more subdued, nor his lyrics more blunted - instead, the artist has grown into himself, embodying the soul and spirituality of music and writing to create powerfully emotive songs.
Performing at Festival Iminente back in 2019, the Chicago rapper brought his unique style of performance to the Portuguese capital with a rousing and uplifting display of thought-provoking and provocative music, all underlined with his signature sense of hope and action.
Staying still doesn’t seem to make sense for Common, whose lyrics have always been built upon the notion of growth, whether attained through spiritual and religious means, or a genuine engagement with one’s surrounding social and political landscape.
It’s difficult to pinpoint his musical and lyrical style for this very reason, because evolution is one of the key concepts behind all of his albums which, within themselves, often feature recurring motifs or consistent themes that allow the rapper to dissect and understand certain topics in greater detail. Take his 2014 release, Nobody’s Smiling, which looks at the high rates of violence in his native city, a musical and lyrical odyssey through Chicago from somebody raised there, but who also now has a degree of privilege in their perspective.
Expanding on the limits of Chicago, Common wanted to speak about violence around the world as a whole and opted to approach it in a very realistic manner that encapsulates the sense of hopelessness articulated in the title - exploring what the very essence of hope means and what it can provide. Although following the same path, it is a change from his iconic 2000 release Like Water for Chocolate, one of the pioneering releases in the ‘conscious’ hip-hop movement, a far cry from the gangster rap that thrived in the mid to late 90s.
Most recently, Common released Let Love, an album that can be seen as an accompaniment to his personal memoir from the same year, Let Love Have the Last Word. Sent out to the world in the months leading up to the wide scale closures caused by the pandemic, there is a prescience about his meditations, reflecting on the power of the simplest, yet most complicated, of concepts - love.
His examination of love takes many dimensions, something the rapper articulates by saying that, “I’m talking about love for God, love for community, love for self and love in action. If we look at things and put love in our core, if we work from that place, that things will shift and change.” This is a bold statement, that something invisible and, in many ways, arbitrary, could be the source of healing in the world.
What is clear in his performances, like his songs of light sung under darkness at the 2019 edition of Festival Iminente, is that he has embodied the love he talks about, that love isn’t something invisible and arbitrary, but a thing that can be willed into existence, as long as it manifests in everything that we do.
Video by @expandingroots
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