Grammy and Oscar winning rapper Common hasn’t just branched into acting both in movies such as “Selma” and “Suicide Squad,” and television shows like “Hell on Wheels,” but he is also an activist who brought his inspiring word to Cal State Long Beach.
Common spoke to a packed audience of fans at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center for “An Evening with Common,” presented by Associated Students, Inc. Beach Pride Events. Whether people were fans of his early rapping in the ‘90s, his more recent songs or they only knew him from his appearances in film, students greeted him and continuously interrupted his speech with ecstatic screams.
“Cal State Long Beach is really a warm and inviting crowd, with just open great energy,” Common said in a press conference after his speech. “I hope that each individual will just take away a spark to send them or keep them on the path that they always dreamed of, and I hope they were inspired to go higher and keep going toward those dreams.”
He began his keynote speech by admitting that most people were probably there as fans of his music, so to pay tribute to that, he freestyled before getting into his talk. The freestyle spurred cheers and hollers from the crowd when he mentioned Walter Pyramid, the Carpenter Center, Parkside, Second Street and Hole Mole. He ended it by referencing the Muhammad Ali theory.
This theory was ultimately his take away message for students, which was to “define your path, believe in your path and live your path.”
He mentioned how he was honored to be at a memorial service for Ali over the summer, and was touched to see the different types of people who spoke to celebrate his life. “I’m talking Muslim brothers, Jewish sisters, Christian brothers, Baptist preachers, Native American leaders, lesbian teachers,” he said.
Common referenced how Ali was known across the world as “the greatest,” and he was inspired to ask himself what makes a person “the greatest?”
His answer was that when you achieve the highest potential within yourself that it changes people’s lives. Common said it begins by defining your path.
“[Your path] is bigger than a profession, it’s bigger than the titles, bigger than an award,” Common said. “It’s a purpose, and it serves you and it serves others.”
He said he first defined his path after making his first rap — which he then recited for the crowd — and he saw how it affected his friends. He then proceeded to say that no one can know your path the way you do, and that when he was recruited by a record label, his mom wanted him to stay in school.
“My mother didn’t know my path the way I did,” Common said. “Fast forward, she’s like hurry up and make a new album, I need a new car.”
According to Common, the next step to achieving greatness is to believe in your path.
He quoted Nelson Mandela stating, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” Then said that you need to accept your greatness, and not “dim your light.”
He referenced going to the Grammys alongside Kanye West and John Legend with three acceptance speeches in his pocket for his five nominations — truly believing he would win all five. When his colleagues all walked away with Grammys and he did not, he didn’t let it get him down. He got back in the booth the next week and got a Grammy the next year.
Common’s final step to achieving greatness is living your path.
“Living your path means that everything you believe and think is going to happen may not happen when you want it to,” Common said. “Living your path is knowing that challenges are going to come to you no matter how talented you are, no matter how intelligent you are, no matter how many obstacles you’ve already overcome.”
He said that the challenges are there for us to reach the Muhammed Ali within ourselves.
Lastly he asked the crowd, “What are you willing to die for? Live for that,” and to achieve greatness you only need a heart full of grace.
He then stuck around for a Q&A of student questions. The audience members each became starstruck as he addressed them individually. The last request from the audience was, of course, for him to freestyle one more time, resulting in one final eruption of cheers before the event came to a close.