For the past three years, Chicago Ideas Week has produced a week of special discussions that revolved around sharing ideas, inspiring action and igniting change to positively impact society.
Chicago Ideas Week kicked off with a bang last week as Grammy/Oscar award winning songwriter and artist, Common, participated in one of the opening programs to launch the anti-violence music video, “Put the Guns Down.” The song was produced by fellow Chicago native and producer, Anthony ‘The Twilite Tone’ Khan and featured other Chicago notable rap artists—LilHerb, KingLouie, KatieGotBandz, Tree, Saba, NoName Gypsy, Nick Jr., and Mic Terror of Treated Crew.
Partnering with Leo Burnett Ad Agency to bring awareness to the rising gun violence that continues to plague neighborhoods across the city, CIW presented a panel discussion, “Keeping the Peace: Music, Art & the End of Violence.” The discussion was moderated by CNN reporter, Marc Lamont Hill and included Common, Anthony ‘The Twilite Tone’ Khan, Nina Vinik, Program Director of The Joyce Foundation and Monica Haslip-Executive Director of Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy.
This particular panel discussion brought out a nearly sold out audience which included young students and parents that lost their children to gun violence, who were also featured in the music video. Opening up the program was CIW Executive Director, Jessica Malkin, who shared statistics on the latest homicides and shootings in the Chicago area. Followed by Marc Lamont Hill who segued comfortably into his role as the host and moderator, introducing Chicago young talents; Chima Ikona and Jalen Kobayashi of the spoken word group, Louder Than a Bomb. Sculptor, Garland Martin Taylor presented a visual presentation of his art piece, a 380lb. stainless steel gun which has the names of those whose lives were taken by gun violence.
As the program continued, Common was invited onstage for a one-on-one conversation with Hill as he explained the importance of staying true to his artistry and philanthropic efforts.
“It started with my mother, because she’s been an educator since I was born. Seeing her as a teacher go the extra mile, not only with me, but with other students. I felt that is what you’re sup- posed to do as a human being – each one, teach one. If you have a big loaf of bread and you see someone who don’t have any food—you have to look out,” Common said. “Just my belief in God, made me feel that I have to give back. One of the best ways to give back is to go directly to the youth and ask them, ‘What do you all need?’”
Both Common and Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan grew up on the South Side of Chicago so participating on this project wasn’t just another production—it struck a personal chord. Khan explained his process, “We need to get out of our comfort zone which is why “Put the Guns Down” was produced. At first it was supposed to be a PSA or commercial. I said, we have to make this full song and not just Common the ‘kumbaya’ rappers. We need the dudes that make the soundtrack for the dudes that are do- ing the killing,” said Khan.
Knowing the state of gun violence and agitation in the streets, Hill turned to Common and questioned should artist have a moral responsibility to produce music that uplifts and not ignite violence?
Not endorsing his young colleagues lifestyle, Common also felt it was important not to sup- press the creative flow as an artist. “Art is about expression, it’s about telling your story and using your imagination which you can be inspired by different things.”