Beloved, controversial performer discusses fame and the deeper meanings of his life.
Common, subject of Fox News’ ire following his White House poetry recitation, has long been acclaimed as a thoughtful and deft hip-hop artist. In his memoir—co-authored by Bradley (Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, 2009, etc.)—he suggests great consciousness of the cultural legacy he carries: “Chicago blackness gave me understanding, awareness, street sense, and a rhythm. I learned the way that soulful people move, act, and talk.” He portrays himself as an openhearted, curious kid, trying to understand the tumult of Chicago’s African-American South Side. Obsessed with girls from an early age, he would go to the city’s museums to meet them. At the same time, he was rhyming in private, and he gave up basketball in high school to concentrate on rap, which he saw as similarly competitive. Common writes frankly about his youthful involvement with gang culture, portrayed as an inevitable rite of passage that became increasingly violent: “Crack hit the South Side of Chicago like a balled up fist.” Varied influences—his mother, friends, artistic ambitions—steered him away from it and toward a more “conscious” existence. By 1989, his early demos as Common Sense were drawing industry attention, and he dropped out of college to pursue this calling, over his mother’s objections. Much of what follows is a funny, honest showbiz narrative, moving from hip-hop to film acting. Interestingly, each chapter begins with a “letter” to someone significant in his life: e.g., his mother and father (early chapters discuss their tumultuous relationship), Emmett Till, former girlfriend Erykah Badu and collaborator Kanye West. Additionally, his mother offers occasional italicized counterpoint. As a memoir, the book succeeds based on Common’s candor, intelligence and charm, despite occasional artificial passages and broad platitudes, and he writes powerfully about his connection with President Obama.
An intriguing look at an iconoclast’s cultural accomplishments.