COMMON: Peace. It's so great to see you, Jonathan. And greetings to everyone, and so on. It's an honor to be here on Washington Post Live. I mean, I really enjoy the space and it's--you know, got a lot of respect for you all and what you do. So thank you, Jonathan.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, thank you. And it's great to--it is great to meet you, although I don't think we've met before, but it's great to meet you. So let's talk about your album, although we know a lot of people in common. How does "A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2" pick up from "A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1"?
COMMON: Well, "A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1" was really--it was written during the times when we were dealing with a lot of social angst. The election was coming up. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were right there. There was so much racial tension and just hurt and anger and protests and movement going on. And "Pt. 1" really expressed--it was--it was about revolution in a way that was like, hey, I'm taking this--all this energy and turning it into something possible, I mean, something like practical and like bring it--it had a force to it which still is uplifting but it's kind of like what Public Enemy did with their music. You know, it had that charge. I think "Pt. 2" is a lot more joyful, a lot more--I would say both are inspiring. None--I don't want to do any music that isn't--that doesn't have any [audio interference].
MR. CAPEHART: I was going to say.
COMMON: Yeah. So but I think--I guess joyful in a way that some of the music on "Pt. 2" is like really just--you feel good, dance music. You know, I really realize that, you know, this whole "Beautiful Revolution" project, "Pt. 1"--"2," started because I read a quote from Assata Shakur when she was talking about revolution is love. Revolution is respecting your partners. Revolution is like the smiling and the joy. And so it wasn't just the thought of revolution in the way that we think it's revolt against the government and this. It was really about the changes that we create within our lives. So I wanted "Pt. 2" to have that self-aware change, where it's like, okay, how can I be a better person, and also what makes me happy. You know, for me, listening to a lot of music makes me happy. Being around loved ones makes me happy. Going to eat great dinners. So I kind of channeled the energy of wanting people to feel uplifted, inspired, hopeful into "Pt. 2."
MR. CAPEHART: You know, I'm glad you used the adjective "joyful," because I was trying to figure out the right word to describe the song "When We Move." And you talk about joyful and how you listen to some of the songs and it makes you want to--it makes you want to dance. And that song in particular, it just--talk about the beat behind that song before I ask you about the power--the meaning behind the song.
COMMON: Yeah. Yeah, well, Jonathan, "When We Move" is like--is produced by the producers of the album. We are--these are musicians that we go in and they--we just start jamming. It's kind of like how James Brown and Fela Kuti or maybe--I don't know the Beatles' songwriting process, but, you know, just musicians playing. And when we hit something we like, we're like, oh, that's it. Well, when we move the music for it, I was like that's it. That's really funky. It's amazing. It made me feel good.
And it had this feel of Fela Kuti, who's an artist who's come--he was from Nigeria, from Lagos, Nigeria. He was like one of the founders of the afrobeat, like he was--and was doing a lot of revolutionary music for those who aren't familiar with Fela Kuti. I mean, it was--they did a Broadway play about him. Hopefully, they'll do a film about him. He's one of my greatest inspirations. The music made me feel that.
So I was inspired to write about--when I was writing "When We Move," I was thinking like, the influential that Black Americans have had on the planet. And I thought about it in such a way that it was like not like we're better than anybody else. It was more like, hey, y'all, let's celebrate who we are, celebrate what we're doing. We were people who were enslaved and have taken all the targeting that goes on and the like--the injustices and the inequalities and still have become powerful, influential, loving, caring people who impact the planet. And I was like, so that's why the concept "when we move, the whole world follows" really came about. And it was--it's a celebration of blackness really in a way that's like I think everybody should be able to celebrate it.
And it became an international thing when we put Seun Kuti on the song, who was Fela's son on the song. He sings part of the chorus and also plays horns on it. So he's from Lagos, Nigeria. So it took it worldwide.
MR. CAPEHART: Uh-huh. Well, I mean, I was going to ask you about the meaning behind the song, citing the chorus. So the chorus goes, "When we move, the whole world follow in our path." And you took the words right out of my mouth, because as I'm listening to the song--and I was reading the lyrics, like, wait--this song is a celebration of Black people in America. And I was just wondering was there a specific moment that inspired this song, or were you meaning to get--to take in the entire sweep of our existence in this country and the impact we've had on global culture?
COMMON: I think--that's a great question. I think that I was really absorbing all that was happening, like because if you--you know, let's face it--like within the past year with all that has taken place, like so many corporations are using Black people in their advertisements. You know, basically, you know, most film companies are saying we've got to have Black people on the set because we had enough, and people are speaking up. And it's not just Black people speaking up, and that's what's so important. But I think it was more for me at that moment of thinking of that concept was more like, okay, let's just celebrate each other. Let's just celebrate what we're doing. And I was thinking about how, okay, we might be getting pushed to the forefront by these corporations, but what also do we think about ourselves? Let's look at ourselves and say, hey, look, y'all, look at what we are doing.
And I think, you know, to be honest, Jonathan, sometimes me going like--I went--I went to do a lot of canvasing last year for the--for the election. And me going into the communities--I was in Jacksonville, Florida; I was in Greensboro, North Carolina; we were--we were in Philadelphia--I absorbed people. And we went to a lot of the obviously intercity environments, neighborhoods, and I really just absorbed the people. And I kind of just wanted to reinforce--because I met people there who were--they weren't, like, entertainers, but they just had a glow about them, a beauty about them, a natural thing that people should have. And it just made me say, yo, let's celebrate who we are. And that's what that thought came about.
And I have--it's featuring Black Thought, who is from The Roots and one of the most talented artists out there. So--and I'm very grateful for that song. My mother called me about that song and was like, yo, this is amazing. She saw us performing on Jimmy Fallon. It was like, yeah, I dig. Yeah.
MR. CAPEHART: Yeah, I watched that. I saw that. And you know, the song is infectious. The beat behind it is superb. But also, the message--the message behind it, I really--when the album comes out next month, I encourage people to actually read the lyrics. And to know that you were inspired by everyday people who you met around the country while canvassing, to my mind, adds to the power of that song. You don't have to be famous and you don't have to be a VIP in order to have an impact on the culture.
Let me ask you about something from--go ahead.
COMMON: No, I was about to say thank you for reinforcing that point, because that's something that I--you know, I just--like I feel like I want to get across. Like I do different speaking engagements at colleges and I'm like, man, we don't have to be--you don't have to be an entertainer or an athlete or some celebrity to really have an impact. In fact, some of the most impactful people I've known in history, some people we don't know their names and some are just so impactful within their communities. And it really starts with us, like who we--how we treat ourselves and then how we treat our family members and how we treat people within the community and our neighbors or coworkers or people that we, you know, just come across, a stranger. To me, the impact starts there. And then, you know, you become a part of organizations and other things that make it more macro. But the truth of the matter is, you don't have to be that big-name person to have a really supreme impact.
MR. CAPEHART: There's a reason why we sort of joke about, you know, Ms. Jenkins, you know, or Mr. Smith who sits out on the front porch and knows everybody's name and has permission to discipline the neighborhood kids. That's the first--that's the first VIP we've ever come across when we were growing up, the person who, you know, shaped the community, helped mold the community.
But I need to talk to you about this powerful track in the first--"A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1." It's called Fallen. And you sing--and it's a question--"Is it you don't hear us or don't care for us?" And given what's happened since the murder of George Floyd, I'm wondering are Black Americans finally being heard in the year that has passed since the murder of George Floyd and the conviction of the former police officer who killed him?
COMMON: I truly believe Black Americans are being heard in a new way now. George Floyd's murder was really a turning point in history. He will forever go down in history--I mean, his life is gone, but his life means so much to history now. And you know, I feel for his loved ones and his daughter and him, himself. Like, that's his life. But his impact and the culmination of that on top of what happened with Breonna Taylor and just all the people we're seeing, I think--and because we were obviously still within our homes, we had a lot of time to just look at ourselves, and that means us as individuals and that means also us as a collective society. And I think it was enough people that said, man, this is inhumane, this is not right. And sometimes it takes the most drastic thing to have an impact on for you to see it.
Listen, Jonathan. My life changed too when I went to visit people who were incarcerated, you know? And seeing them and talking to them and seeing what they were dealing with in the system changed things for me. So it's certain things that change us in ways, and that changed us. George Floyd changed us. And I believe Black people are being heard in a different way now, in a new way. And I really have--we have galvanized. Not only just Black people. Because when I was out at those protests, it was Black, Latino, Asian, White, you know, like it was a beautiful thing--Middle Eastern. I saw all colors at these protests speaking up. So that's what we needed, standing up for each other, and we standing up for ourselves.
So that being said, I think we are being heard in a new way. And I do believe, you know, we've got a lot more work to do because it is--you've got to understand--and you know this--but this country was based on that, like keeping people enslaved or keeping people in a certain position. So that's hundreds of years of that method and that ideology and just the practice of that. So imagine like, you know, we as human beings are trying to like--we go through issues in our lives from childhood, and we're trying to get rid of them. So imagine this country as a whole, you know, trying to get rid of some of its issues and wounds and hurts. So I think it's still we have a lot of work to do--and I know we hear that all the time--but I want to acknowledge that, man, we have made some powerful steps. And I think the more we keep speaking up on it and paying attention to ourselves.
Man, I catch myself--you know, I asked myself this the other day. I was in Brooklyn. I have a place in Brooklyn, and I was like I get mad about gentrification. I get mad. And I said, why am I mad about this? I mean, of course I know why, but I'm like it's not that I don't want other nationalities to enjoy life and enjoy these spaces, but it's just the way Black people have gotten treated in our environments and how the goodness and the equality of an environment gets taken away and we get moved out, and then the environment gets fixed up and everything is good. And I'm like, I just want us to have a part of it too. So I feel like I had to do my own soul-searching because I was like I didn't want to be like just mad because that other people were enjoying their lives, but I had to think about what it was. And I'm bringing that up because I feel like we as people have got to really process things and see moments where we have been, like, still carrying some of the old weight and prejudices that we've [audio distortion] with us. But that means everybody--you know, everybody.
MR. CAPEHART: Right.
COMMON: But you know, as a Black man, I'm fighting for that equality for us all the time, and I'm also celebrating us.
MR. CAPEHART: you know, I want to go back to that Nina Simone quote, "An artist's duty is to reflect the times." After working on the movie Selma, you said you realized, "If I'ma talk it and rap it, then I gotta be it." What changed for you after Selma, and why did you go from reflecting the times to actively working to change the times?
COMMON: Well, you know, when you witness the women, the men of the civil rights movement and what they were doing, like how dedicated their lives were to it, how organized and committed and passionate and how much sacrifice they put into the movement, into the change, you realize, man, I've got a lot of work to do, because I mean, at the time when I said I've got to be it, I had my Common Ground Foundation going. You know, I was going out doing--being a part of helping get political prisoners free. You know, I've done different things that were part of like activist work and movements. But it wasn't like the everyday strategy of and working towards this like I would work towards my acting or work towards my music.
And I really decided that activism needed to be a part of my daily work, meaning like I have to have a team put together. I have to be like coming up with ideas for it, because one of the things I learned from doing Selma and studying those individuals--they were creative--they were putting their minds together coming up with ideas. The character I played, James Bevel, was a musician initially, but he, you know, became a civil rights leader. But he came up with the idea for having teenagers lead one of the marches, and that made people see how kids and teenagers were being treated by officers, and that changed things. Creativity is necessary for movements. And my thing is like, how am I using my creativity, how am I using my time, my actual body to be at places of change and to be involved in change. And that's really how Selma affected me, and to this day I'm still, you know, like, okay, I've got to do more. I can do something. And one thing I'm learning is like, you don't have to do everything, but you've got to do the work that you set out to do and things that you're passionate about. You've got to work towards that.
MR. CAPEHART: So you mentioned, you know, you want to be now part of the day-to-day of activism. So I'm wondering, you know, over the weekend--[clears throat]--excuse me--there were voting rights marches here in Washington and around the country demanding federal action on voting rights. And I'm wondering, have you heard from, or reached out to, the president, Vice President Harris, Senators Manchin and Sinema to talk to them about the filibuster?
COMMON: No, I haven't reached out to either our president or vice president. But, you know, and obviously I did a lot of campaigning for them. So I plan to do some things like, we're galvanizing right now with my team from Imagine Justice, and we're working to get together so when we do go sit down, have an opportunity to talk with our vice president or president, we'll have a nice good list of things that we, you know, just want to discuss.
And one of those things is, you talked about what happened over the weekend. What happened for me over the weekend, and I want to bring up, I actually got more information about an individual named Julius Jones in Oklahoma that I feel a lot of people should be aware of. This individual is in Oklahoma, set up to be--right now they are trying to basically kill him. He's been incarcerated for 20 years. He was accused of murder and convicted of murder where several people said this--he didn't even fit the description, that the person had long hair. This guy was baldheaded. He had never had any crimes, no violence in his life. He was in school playing basketball. He's been in jail for, I think, over 21 years. They're trying to execute this individual in Oklahoma. Several people said this is not the man that did it. And we were really thinking about ways to make sure that this doesn't happen. Man, this is a human life. And I just had to bring that up because those are the things that I'm talking about being a part of and doing on the daily. So I'm encouraging people to make sure they check out juliusjones.com. It's dealing with Oklahoma.
And I want to say it was like I've got to give respect to--it was a lot of different entertainers, including obviously Kim Kardashian was leading the way, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ashley Graham and Dak Prescott and J. Cole and Snoop Dogg just all involved. And it's like these are the things sometimes that people don't know that artists and athletes are doing because you don't do it all like for show, but we're doing--we want to do the work. And it's a lot of people that want to do it. So I just had to bring that up. I'm encouraging people to find out more about Julius Jones.
MR. CAPEHART: Julius Jones. And I don't know if I mentioned before, but criminal justice--criminal justice reform is an issue that you are very focused on and passionate about. One thing you didn't--you didn't mention was, you said you're using your artistry and creativity, but you didn't say using your voice. And that brought me back to something you said in--I think it was a USA Today interview last year where you said part of the reason you started rapping was because you wanted to be heard. And I'm wondering, what did rapping give you that, say, doing what I do--which is writing op-ed columns, writing essays--didn't?
COMMON: Well, rapping actually gave me a chance to express things that I don't know if I ever would have said out loud. But because it's an art form and an art, you get the freedom to express in a way where it's not really judged. Either somebody says I like it, or I don't like it. You know, I was--I was writing at a time where, you know, I came up right before, you know, hip-hop even became even more like I'm saying what I want to say.
But for me, it was even before that, I just started learning about myself because I was using my voice, because I was--like this person that was saying the things that--because it was like in writing and rapping, I found some things coming out of my subconscious that I didn't even know I felt. And I also would talk about things that I felt that I wouldn't talk about in conversation. Like I had--when I was younger, I was molested. And I was working on a book. I had never talked about this and actually had tucked it away, and just it was--it didn't exist to me. And it actually came up when I was working on a film. And when it did come up, I eventually was like I'm going to--I started writing about it before I started talking about it even more. And that's what hip-hop and rap provided for me in ways that things that I normally wouldn't talk about, I was able to express. And it kind of put the mirror up to me. It's been a release. It's been--therapy has been healing in so many ways.
And it's allowed me to connect with other individuals to also heal them, you know, and tell them my stories in rap and music. And that voice is something, because on this planet we all want to be heard, Jonathan. We all want to be seen and heard. And I think, you know, rap--I believe rap was the way for me to be heard. Like what it did for me and what it does for me--like I noticed when I wrote my first rap how my friends reacted, and I was like, wow, this is good. The joy they felt, I felt the joy too. It was like a true connection of hearts to hearts.
And then that became bigger because I was able to go in front of crowds, and I'm in front of crowds that are relating to what I'm saying, and these are people that I don't know. These are people that I never would have had an opportunity to even connect with. Like I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. That's segregated land. Like, it was Black people, and that was it. I mean, we had Latino, Latino community, Mexican brothers and sisters, but we didn't integrate. So when I'm going to shows and I'm rapping and I'm seeing Latino brothers and sisters, Asian brothers and sisters, White brothers and sisters, Black brothers and sisters, you know, Native American brothers and sisters in my show, this is--this is a way for me to connect. So rap provided me that voice. It's given me that.
MR. CAPEHART: Let me close by bringing the conversation back to your new album, "A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2." And in it you ask, "What's next in the revolution?" So I'm wondering, what is the change you would like to see going forward?
COMMON: Oh, man, I would love to see--I would like to see, like, us, first of all, as individuals just love ourselves, just like find ways to love ourselves, because in that love for self, you inevitably will be able to love another, because once you're full of that love, and even in the imperfections of who we are, still, you still are able to express and honor the God in the other--in the next person.
I'm a believer in spirituality. I don't say, man, you've got--you should go into this religion or this. But I'm a believer in spirituality. I would like spirituality to be a part of our progress, like, because when you do have--when you do see the higher parts of another individual, it's very difficult to bring them down through words or through physical actions, or just even the energy of bringing someone down. And I think just finding ways to practice that within our own lives allows us to share that with others.
And then, you know, using that higher vibration to go out and be practical with the activities of like what does--what do our communities need--how can we be a part of those things, whether it's joining organizations that, you know, or supporting organizations that are already doing the things, or if we had to start our own things, whatever it may be--like a lot of the work that I've done in prisons was with ARC, which is already established: Anti-Recidivism Coalition. But I teamed up with them because I wanted to be a part of that change in the criminal justice system, and they have been doing the work. So I was able to bring what I was able to bring to the table and connect with them, and we partnered and continue to move forward. I would like to see us do that, like get ourselves together, get high--on a higher spiritual vibration and then take that towards activism and things that we care about that can change our communities, and essentially our country and the world.
MR. CAPEHART: Musician, actor, author, activist, Common, you were here nearly a year ago. Let's keep this going. We'll see you in, what, another 11 months or so.
COMMON: Yes, I would love that, Jonathan. And by the way, you look great, man. Your home--your place looks beautiful. I was trying to check what books you've got back there. But thank you so much for having me. I'm honored to be on Washington Post Live--the Washington Post Live and us giving voice. I really appreciate you.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, thank you very much. Thank you again for coming back to Washington Post Live.
And as always, thank you for tuning in. Check out our upcoming interviews and programs by going to WashingtonPostLive.com to register and find out more information. I’m Jonathan Capehart. Thank you for watching Washington Post Live.
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