Common: ‘vile’ or mainstream?
Rapper Common arrives at the 2010 'CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute' held at The Shrine Auditorium on November 20, 2010, in Los Angeles.
May 11th, 2011
05:26 PM ET

Common: ‘vile’ or mainstream?

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 “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."

Topics: The Buzz

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. lookagain

    Consider the source of these criticisms: the likes of Sarah Palin and Karl Rove. Definitely not people whose morals are particularly exemplary; in fact, they've behaved "thuggishly" at times.

    May 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  2. Brandt Hardin

    Palin and FOX only say what they think their audience wants to hear as far as Neocon propaganda. This imprudent commentary has caused damage to the world view of America including critical comments such as this which expose not only racism and bigotry but the obtuse world-view of the people this kind of rhetoric seems fit to represent. I was compelled to create a visual commentary about this very thing on my artist’s blog at

    May 11, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  3. Indi1

    What you will not write to support Obama............................ Read all of your own articles. How sad the "journalist" have become.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  4. mmcgee


    May 11, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  5. dnmtnmama

    If he is a poet,
    I didn't know it.
    He is a disgrace because of his lyrics about law enforcement officers and he also grew up in Rev. Wright's racist church.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  6. Cariller

    Common is one of the most possitive and creatively excelent lyricists and artists out there. His body of work includes 10 great albums and movies and countless acts of charity. His work promotes unity and uplifting all people. I think that the racists and ultra-conservatives are rasping at straws and condemning him for having a ponti of view. Well, we all have a point of view and if mine differs from yours it doesn't make it any less patriotic. Get a grip GOP, there are real issues out there. Who is saying poetry at the White House is a non-issue. I mean how many white supremacists have spent time there in the past? Let's not do the divisive thing because the trackrecord of the president's predecessors is way worse in terms of the company they kept. Keep it moving people...

    May 11, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  7. Palin666

    So it's perfectly A-OK with bitter loser Palin, the cheerleading Hater In Chief Of America, that her best buddy whom she has appeared with and supported, Ted Nugent , who is a draft dodging chicken hawk burnt out aging one-hit-wonder rocker viciously rages onstage at the President of the United States that he's a piece of s*** and to suck on his machine gun??? Then he calls our Secretary of State a "worthless b**ch. That's okay with you Mrs. Palin isn't it….I'm sure you approved and smirked the same way you did when your adoring audience, some of whom held stuffed toy monkeys with Obama's name on them, yelled "Kill Him!".

    Now THAT is the definition of "vile".

    May 12, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • where's the change?

      Two wrongs don't make a right. Yes, an impressive resume. But would this guy have been invited to the white house had he used inflammatory lyrics with respect to the current president?

      May 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  8. promo

    No...Kenji Fineberg is the "vile" rapper!

    May 12, 2011 at 6:47 am |
  9. Jay in NC

    Is this the best that this generation has to offer?

    I know that The First Date enjoys this type of language, hate, racism, sex and violence. She did say Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison was her favorite first book, but does she have to keep imposing this on our kids?

    May 12, 2011 at 7:09 am |
  10. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Common? Why not? He is a sensible truth-telling 'rapper'. He is NOT a thug! I'm aware of the 'fact' that it is 'status quo' for some in this racist, biased society to believe that ALL rappers are thugs, however that is NOT the truth; they are wrong. Most of them are mainstream, Main Street messengers of the Spoken Word of Truth! The 'REAL THUGS' inside of WASHINGTON and out, are the ones complaining about him and his presence in the WHITEHOUSE! Thugs can't handle the truth! They never have been able to!

    May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  11. uncommon

    by the poet uncommon

    what he say, what he do
    always for him and never for you

    savior say no red no blue
    what he say is never true

    what he do is talk talk talk
    never gonna walk that walk

    close de gitmo is what he say
    never gonna get his way

    disagree with what he say
    you bag tea everyday

    no like black is the call
    can't disgree with him at all

    what he say, what he do
    he take money, but not for you

    nobel is what he get
    for what??? just forget

    cops always acting stupidly
    so say the messiah pompously

    don't you be a clingin'
    to guns and religion

    what he say, what he do
    opaque for me, transparent for you

    obama nation is abomination
    act now or gonna lose this nation

    May 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  12. Dr. Dawkins

    At the end of the day the Common Controversy is exactly that ... common. It's the same old uncritical media hype dressed up in newer, cooler clothes. If the hype goes unchallenged then a large number of news consumers may actually believe these inflated interpretations of otherwise ordinary events. And, they may ignore uncommon and extraordinary events that actually affect their lives.

    Read more @ or @

    May 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  13. Liz Carter in Georgia

    @Palin666, That's the mindset! Some can and some can't! When you identify it or point to the racial undertone of it; even the possibility of the double-standardness of anything in reference to BARACK OBAMA, you become the racist or the divisive one! You become the reason the nation can't move past race or bigotry! Keep up the good work. If we don't stand for something, we will continue to fall for anything!

    May 19, 2011 at 6:58 pm |