The influence of hip hop culture has become as adaptable as eating corn flakes in the morning, pumping gas before hitting the highway and for many post-baby boomers – breathing. One of the architects of the hip hop movement, Lonnie Lynn aka Common, has embedded his art form of lyrically conscious rhymes into the title song “Glory” for the movie soundtrack of Selma. The Grammy award-winning artist collaborated on the song with fellow Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend who co-wrote and sings on the track.
The movie Selma is based on the historical march led by Civil Rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) and the fight for voting rights for Blacks. The movie, beautifully shot and directed by Ava DuVernay, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Motion Picture.
The movie’s title song, “Glory” is nominated for Best Original Song for a Movie Soundtrack, giving both Common and John Legend their first Oscar nominations. Having already snagged Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice and SAG awards, the Chicago native is on a roll – including a recent performance on this year’s Grammy Awards show.
We had a chance to talk with Common on his latest and most profound work on the movie, Selma.
How does it feel to get this far?
Wow! I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m here! By the same token, I want to enjoy and be grateful for the blessings of the ups and downs. To reach a point, here in my career, I am grateful for reaching this point. Also, to know that as I enjoy it, I have to also recognize the responsibility that comes with it. It’s also a platform that I have to utilize to do greater work.
I understand that they approached you to think about the concept of the title song for Selma. How did that come about?
It was one of those things where I was working on the film as an actor and Ava DuVernay called me and said, ‘I’m thinking about you doing a song for the film.’ She was editing the film and it entered as a thought, so I knew that’s what they wanted to do. So, as they were busy editing, I decided to start on the song. It was one of those things, where you listen to your gut. You listen to the ‘God conscious’ in you. I called John Legend because I thought about him being the right person that could connect with the song. The title just came to me and I pitched it to John. I gave him three titles and ‘Glory’ was the third one.
Musically, you’ve been pretty prolific throughout your career. Some feel you’ve had some ‘hits’ and some felt you had some ‘misses.’ Your fan base feels you’ve had mostly ‘hits’ because you’ve stayed true to your art form. What has kept you focused to stay true to your brand?
My brand is who I am. I’m staying true to me. The more I look around, I see what’s going on. I feel a responsibility to stay true. I look at some of the opportunities that I have and look at that as being a blessing. My belief and faith in God really make me stay true. Looking at the way that I could really help other people do the music, art through activism makes me stay true to what I believe in. You just can’t walk by a person if they’re hurting and not do a thing. So, I feel when I speak up for the city or speak up for certain people in the struggle or whether it’s in Chicago or around the country or around the world — that is my duty.
In your opinion, what makes a Black person from Chicago different from your ordinary person from New York, Alabama, or any other place? Does it come down to staying true and being outspoken in your viewpoint especially as a race? Or do you attribute it to being born and raised in Chicago?
Definitely some of it has to do with being raised in Chicago. I have to admit there are true people all over the country and the world. In Paris, Australia, Alabama…being in Chicago, it’s given me a sense as a Black person to know my culture. We know that our city is very segregated overall. Growing up around Black people, I got to know who we were and I have that connection. It’s important that you know the line of people that you come from. Who you are and you can take that into the world. Knowing about ‘self-love’ and ‘self-confidence,’ it doesn’t mean that you have to put anyone down. You just have that because you do know who you are. I think Chicago is one of those places that help provide me with that. Our roots are from the south – a lot of our parents come from the south – our grandparents. For me to be able to utilize that in everything and just be who I am and to not be afraid of who I am. I know that I am a Black man.
With that same confidence, when you are sitting across from executives in the film world the highlighted discussion is the lack of nominations that Selma received from the Academy. What is the continued concern and fight that you find as talent, creators and producers in Hollywood right now?
I think the concern is to create the best material possible. Ava DuVernay created a masterpiece with Selma. Our biggest focus is to continue doing that and your due will come to you. Sometimes the road may be more difficult than what we perceive – that’s part of the journey. The fact that Ava created a movie that impacts the world and it’s very important. It’s nominated for Best Picture so we’re celebrating that and we are also nominated for Best Original Song for which we’re grateful. Ava has a lot more films to produce; David Oyelowo is also going to do a lot more films and hopefully he will be recognized. From my experience, I put out songs that some people recognized as ‘good quality’ and those songs didn’t get recognized and others did. We have to continue to put material out that you are passionate about – that you feel is great.