Common, an award-winning hip hop artist from Chicago, spoke at the Reynolds Center last Friday. He began his talk with a freestyle rap that lasted several minutes and name-dropped Tacos Don Francisco, Mayo Village and 7th Street House. Mentioning TU-area landmarks was a nice touch, and it made it seem like he cared about where he was.
After the rap, Common settled into the night’s main event: a talk about his thoughts on greatness. In the “Common dictionary,” as he calls it, greatness is about achieving the most one can, about reaching full potential.
He talked about his experiences growing up in the South Side of Chicago, losing Grammys to friend and former label-mate Kanye West, breaking up with Erykah Badu and the subsequent soul-searching that, according to Common, led to some of his greatest successes.
It’s easy to talk about greatness when you run with the likes of Yeezy and John Legend, but Common, staying true to his name, came across as grounded and level-headed, even relatable. He shared stories about having doubts and hard times, even as a successful MC.
Greatness, as Common sees it, is about finding, believing and living the path that will lead you to fulfilling your greatest potential. Out of context, it sounds like a cheap catchphrase for a motivational speaker, but coming from him it sounds more like a successful person is telling us how he made it to where he is.
Less successful was the brief question and answer portion of the talk. Because it was advertised as a talk about current issues, many people asked questions about social problems that Common didn’t really have answers for.
To be fair, even though Common has a reputation as a socially-conscious rapper, his expertise is in music and entertainment rather than activism. He did a fair job answering the questions, considering the fact that he had no time to prepare and isn’t very connected to many of the issues he was asked about.
My main criticism of the talk was that it was advertised as something that it was not. The fliers said that it was to be “a moderated conversation on a variety of topics, ranging from social issues and current events to challenges on the horizon.”
What I expected was a discussion from a socially conscious person about social issues. What I got was more or less a motivational speech from a famous person. This is not to say that it wasn’t worth hearing, but if you came expecting what was advertised, you were probably disappointed.