It’s hard to settle on a one-word descriptor for Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.
“Rapper” used to be the go-to label, but lately, it seems “actor” might be more apt (he’s currently in the box-office-dominating “Suicide Squad”). Or “producer” — look for his upcoming “America Divided” docuseries and the remake of the 1975 flick “Cooley High” — or maybe “philanthropist,” now that he’s running his own charitable foundation.
We caught up with the 44-year-old rapper-actor-producer-philanthropist (why choose when you can hyphenate?) as he’s promoting a new partnership with Allstate Insurance, which is donating $10 for scholarships to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for every person who gets an insurance quote and mentions the “Quotes for Education” campaign.
You went to an HBCU — what do students get out of that kind of educational experience?
For me, going to Florida A&M was inspiring — I was able to meet young black people from all over the country who were focused on education and on elevating themselves. It was also fun, being around all these people your age.
I’m endorsing and supporting this initiative because I believe college is a blessing, and for young black people coming out of areas that are struggling … for them to see college as their future, that’s a blessing.
You’ve gotten to be friends with the Obamas, and you’ve been to some events at the White House. So spill — what was the president’s birthday party like?
It was a lot of fun — dancing, Stevie Wonder, Usher singing “Happy Birthday.” All those great people. What made it even more enjoyable was that they had us dump our cellphones at the door, and that made us all socialize and have a great time. It really reflected the president … one of the great aspects about him is who he is as a human. That party was love.
Did the president dance?
Oh, man. The way he danced, it looked like he could dance in a circle with anyone from Chris Brown to … well, I don’t want to say Michael Jackson, because he’s like the king. But [President Obama] was getting down, he was loose. It was natural, the dances he was doing. Part of that is because DJ Jazzy Jeff is the best DJ you can have at a party. Did you see his playlist? He has good taste.
Yeah, you were on it, right?
See, good taste. [laughs.]
Back in 2011, when you were invited to the White House for a spoken-word event, Fox News and others were calling you the “Cop Killer Rapper,” citing some of your lyrics, and now you’re on the state dinner invite list. What do you make of that?
Even at the time, I didn’t take that personally — them attacking me was a way to get at the president. And the fact that I’ve been back speaks to the loyalty and consistency of our president and him not falling for any of that.
Obama’s presidential library is going to the South Side of Chicago, the neighborhood where you and Obama are both from. What can you tell people who are visiting there for the first time — what spots shouldn’t they miss?
They’ve got to ride around. See all the historical spots, like the Regal Theater on 47th Street, and the deep parts like Harold’s Chicken. They’ve got to just ride around.