May 11th, 2011
05:26 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) – During the nearly 20 years rapper Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. – a.k.a. ‘Common’ - has been making music, he’s been described as a “street poet,” a “neo-soul rapper,” and a “positive rapper.”
Most often, he’s been called a “conscious rapper.”
“At first I thought, 'Man, why are (the media) trying to box me in?' Because when you're looked at as being conscious, they also put a label of self-righteous on you, and that kind of disconnects you with the street and the average people," Common told Jet Magazine in 2005.
The Chicago-born rapper eventually appreciated the generalization, once he realized other artists like Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and John Coltrane were also dubbed “conscious.”
But now on the heels of Common’s visit to the White House Wednesday to participate in an event celebrating poetry, conservative media outlets and the likes of Sarah Palin have given him a new label: “vile.”
Recent reports have painted a rather negative image of Common, flagging past performances where he used inflammatory lyrics with respect to former President George W. Bush, such as ‘burn a Bush,’ or ‘f- Bush.’
During other performances, Common Critics have also highlighted some misogynist references in his work, as well as a song celebrating the life of Black Panther and accused cop killer Assata Shakur in Common’s Song for Assata.
Still others have pointed out that Common attended the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity Church in Chicago, once even performing during a service.
Asked about the ‘Common Controversy’ at Wednesday’s press briefing, White House Spokesman Jay Carney put some distance between the president and the rapper.
“While the president doesn’t support the kind of lyrics” associated with Common, “we do think that some of these reports distorts what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly in order to stoke controversy,” Carney told reporters.
"You can oppose some of what he’s done and appreciate some of the other things he’s done," he added.
Common defended himself on his Facebook page Wednesday.
“Politics is politics and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I respect that,” he wrote. “The one thing that shouldn’t be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day. Peace yall!”
So just who is Common?
In addition to being a Grammy Award-winning rapper who is set to release his 9th album this year:
Common is an actor, starring in movies with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Piven, and Queen Latifah.
He considers his role models to be his mother (a high school principal), a former math teacher, and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
He attended Florida A&M University on a business scholarship for two years, until he told his mom he wanted to rap professionally.
He has been a spokesman for The Gap, Converse, and Ford Motor Company.
He’s written two children’s books.
He runs a foundation called The Common Ground Fund that focuses on “empowering youth in a holistic way, and about helping to shape our leaders of tomorrow,” Common told the Boston Banner in 2010.
The foundation runs a book club called “The Corner” to encourage kids to read. "It's all about them having a discussion with other kids and realizing that being smart is really cool,” he explained to CNN in 2008.
He’s involved in causes for HIV/AIDS prevention and he supports PETA (he’s been a vegetarian since 1999).
He is deeply religious and reads the Bible every day. He is also pro-life, and has rapped about both abortion and God.
He was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama, even participating in 2008’s Yes We Can video made by musician Will.i.am. “I never had faith in our political system until Barack was made president-elect. It showed the potential for human beings that care about other human beings,” he told the Chicago Tribune in December 2008.
He told the Boston Banner in 2000 that he would have been a teacher if not an actor/musician because, “I always feel that I have something to say that will hopefully inspire.”
And, Common has long considered himself a role model. In a 2009 interview with the Miami Herald, Common said, “I think my greatest responsibility is to the youth… I try to encourage them and listen to them and help them to be better people. I try to help them be lovers of self, readers, intelligent people, professionals I help them to dream."