Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. (born March 13, 1972), better known by his stage name Common (formerly Common Sense), is an American hip hop recording artist and actor from Chicago, Illinois. Common debuted in 1992, with the album Can I Borrow a Dollar? and maintained a significant underground following into the late 1990s, after which he gained notable mainstream success through his work with the Soulquarians. In 2011, Common launched Think Common Entertainment, his own record label imprint and in the past has released music under various other labels such as Relativity, Geffen and GOOD Music, among others.
Common's first major-label album Like Water for Chocolate, received widespread critical acclaim and tremendous commercial success. His first Grammy Award was in 2003, winning Best R&B Song for "Love of My Life", with Erykah Badu. Its popularity was matched by May 2005's Be, which was nominated for Best Rap Album, at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Common was awarded his second Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, for "Southside" (featuring Kanye West), from his July 2007 album Finding Forever. His best-of album, Thisisme Then: The Best of Common, was released on November 27, 2007.
Common has also initiated a burgeoning acting career, starring significant roles in such films as Smokin' Aces, Street Kings, American Gangster, Wanted, Terminator Salvation, Date Night, Just Wright, Happy Feet Two, and New Year's Eve. He also narrated the award-winning documentary Bouncing Cats, about one man's efforts to improve the lives of children in Uganda through hip-hop/b-boy culture. He currently stars as Elam Ferguson on the AMC western television series Hell on Wheels.
Common was born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., on Chicago's South Side, on March 13, 1972, and was raised in the Calumet Heights neighborhood. He is the son of educator Dr. Mahalia Ann Hines and former ABA basketball player turned youth counselor Lonnie Lynn. They divorced when he was six years old, resulting in his father's moving to Denver, Colorado. This left Common to be raised by his mother, but his father remained active in his life and landed Lonnie Jr. a job with the Chicago Bulls during his teens. While a student at Luther High School South in Chicago, Lynn with his childhood friends, record producer No I.D., and Corey Crawley formed C.D.R. a rap trio that opened for acts that included N.W.A. and Big Daddy Kane.
Common attended Florida A&M University for two years under a scholarship and majored in business administration. After being featured in the Unsigned Hype column of The Source magazine, Lynn debuted in 1992 with the single "Take It EZ", followed by the album Can I Borrow a Dollar?, under stage name Common Sense.
With the 1994 release of Resurrection, Common achieved a much larger degree of critical acclaim, which extended beyond Chicago natives. The album sold relatively well and received a strong positive reaction among alternative and underground hip hop fans at the time. Resurrection was Common's last album produced almost entirely by his long-time production partner, No I.D., who was also the then-mentor of a young Kanye West.
In 1996, Common appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, America is Dying Slowly, alongside Biz Markie, Wu-Tang Clan, and Fat Joe, among many other prominent hip hop artists. The CD, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic among African American men, was heralded as "a masterpiece" by The Source magazine. He would later also contribute to the Red Hot Organization's Fela Kuti tribute album, Red Hot and Riot in 2002. He collaborated with Djelimady Tounkara on a remake of Kuti's track, "Years of Tears and Sorrow".
The song "I Used to Love H.E.R." from Resurrection ignited a feud with West Coast rap group Westside Connection. The lyrics of the song criticized the path hip hop music was taking and was interpreted by some as directing blame towards the popularity of West Coast Gangsta rap. Westside Connection first responded with the 1995 song "Westside Slaughterhouse," with the lyrics "Used to love H.E.R. mad cause I fucked her". Westside Connection recorded tracks venting their issues with rival East Coast rappers (see East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry). "Westside Slaughterhouse" also mentioned Common by name, prompting the rapper to respond with the scathing Pete Rock-produced attack song "The Bitch in Yoo". Common and Westside Connection continued to insult each other back and forth before finally meeting with Louis Farrakhan and setting aside their dispute. Following the popularity of Resurrection, Common Sense was sued by an Orange County-based reggae band with the same name, and was forced to shorten his moniker to simply Common.
Initially scheduled for an October 1996 release, Common finally released his third album, One Day It'll All Make Sense, in September 1997. The album took a total of two years to complete and included collaborations with artists such as Lauryn Hill, De La Soul, Q-Tip, Canibus, Black Thought, Chantay Savage, and Questlove – a future fellow member of the Soulquarians outfit. The album, which made a point of eschewing any gangsterism (in response to questions about his musical integrity), was critically acclaimed and led to a major label contract with MCA Records. In addition to releasing One Day, Common's first child, daughter Omoye Assata Lynn, was born shortly after the release of the album.
As documented by hip hop journalist Raquel Cepeda, in the liner notes for the album, this event had a profound spiritual and mental effect on Common and enabled him to grow musically while becoming more responsible as an artist. She writes:
Common addresses family ethics several times on One Day..., and the album sleeve is decorated with old family photos, illustrating the rapper's childhood, as well a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:11, which summarizes the path to manhood:
Following One Day..., Common signed a major label record deal with MCA Records and relocated from Chicago to New York City in 1999. He began recording almost exclusively with a loose collective of musicians and artists (dubbed the "Soulquarians" by central figure Questlove) throughout 1999, and made a few sporadic guest appearances on The Roots' Things Fall Apart, and the Rawkus Records compilation, Soundbombing 2.
In 2000, his fourth album, Like Water for Chocolate, was released to mass critical acclaim. Executive produced by Questlove and featuring significant contributions by J Dilla, (who helmed many tracks except – "Cold Blooded", "Geto Heaven Part II", "A Song For Assata", "Pop's Rap Part 3...All My Children" & the DJ Premier-produced track "The 6th Sense"), Like Water for Chocolate transpired to be a considerable commercial breakthrough for Common, earning the rapper his first gold record, and greatly expanding his fanbase among critics and listeners alike.
With both artists hailing from the Great Lakes region of the United States (Chicago and Detroit, prospectively), Common and J Dilla established their chemistry early on. Both became members of the Soulquarians collective, and collaborated on numerous projects together, even placing one song, "Thelonius", on both the Slum Village album Fantastic, Vol. 2, and Common's Like Water for Chocolate. As Dilla's health began to decline from the effects of Lupus Nephritis, he relocated to Los Angeles, and asked Common to make the move with him as a roommate (Dilla would later lose his battle with the rare disease).
This album saw Common exploring themes (musically and lyrically), which were uncommon for a Hip hop record, as he does on the song "Time Travelin' (A Tribute To Fela)"; a homage to Nigerian music legend, and political activist Fela Kuti. The most popular single from the album "The Light" was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In 2002, Common released his fifth album, Electric Circus. The album was highly anticipated and praised by many critics for its ambitious vision. However, it was not as commercially successful as his previous album, Like Water for Chocolate, selling under 300,000 copies. An eclectic album, Electric Circus featured fusions of several genres such as hip hop, pop, rock, electronic, and neo soul. The album's style tended to divide critics; some praised its ambitious vision while others criticized it for the same reason. Most of the criticism tended to revolve around the album's experimental nature; some felt Common had strayed too far from his previous sound. This was Common's second and last album for MCA, and the label's final release prior to its absorption into Geffen Records.
In early 2004, Common made an appearance on fellow Chicagoan Kanye West's multi-platinum debut album, The College Dropout (on the song "Get Em High"), and announced his signing to West's then-newfound label GOOD Music. West had been a longtime fan of Common and the two even participated in a friendly on-air MC battle, where West took jabs at his lyrical idol for "going soft" and wearing crochet pants (as he does for his appearance in the video for the Mary J. Blige song "Dance for Me"). The pair worked together on Common's next album, Be, almost entirely produced by Kanye West, with some help from Common's longtime collaborator the late James Yancey (J Dilla) – also a favorite of West. The album was released in May 2005, and performed very well, boosted by Kanye's involvement and the singles "The Corner", and "Go". Be earned Common the second gold record of his career, with sales topping out at around 800,000 copies. The Source magazine gave it a near perfect 4.5 mic rating, XXL magazine gave it their highest rating of "XXL", and AllHipHop gave the album 4 stars. The album was also nominated for four Grammy Awards in 2006.
Following the release of Be in 2005, several mixed-race artists from the UK hip-hop scene took exception to Common's comments about interracial relationships on the song "Real People." Yungun, Doc Brown and Rising Son recorded a track over an instrumental version of "The Corner" named "Dear Common (The Corner Dub)." Common states that he has heard of the track but never actually taken the time to listen to it, and has not retaliated in song.
Common's seventh LP titled Finding Forever was released on July 31, 2007. For this album, he continued his work with Kanye West, as well as other producers such as will.i.am, Devo Springsteen, Derrick Hodge, and Karriem Riggins, as well as the only J Dilla-produced track, "So Far To Go". The album features guest spots from artists such as Dwele, Bilal, D'Angelo, and UK pop starlet Lily Allen. The first single from the album was "The People" b/w "The Game". West predicted that Finding Forever would win the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. The album was nominated for Best Rap Album, but did not win, losing to West's Graduation; however, Common did win his second Grammy for "Southside," which won the 2008 Grammy for Best Rap Performance by Duo or Group. On July 31, 2007, Common performed a free concert in Santa Monica, California on the 3rd Street Promenade to promote the release of Finding Forever. Common explained to the audience that the title "Finding Forever" represented his quest to find an eternal place in hip-hop and also his wishes to be an artist for the rest of his life. The album debuted at #1 on the national Billboard 200 charts.
In an August 2007 interview with XXL, rapper Q-Tip of the group A Tribe Called Quest stated that he and Common were forming a group called The Standard. While the two were meant to hit the studio to record a Q-Tip-produced album, possibly with contributions from Kanye West, Common put out Universal Mind Control instead and has already planned a next album, The Dreamer, The Believer, for late 2011.
Common was instrumental in bridging the trans-Atlantic gap by signing UK's Mr Wong and J2K to Kanye West's Getting Out Our Dreams recording outfit. Common met the pair during his tour in the UK earlier on in the year. It is speculated that the deal is not only to bring the UK and US hip hop genres together but that to rival Syco Music's cross-Atlantic success with Leona Lewis. He also has a deal with Zune mp3 players. In 2008 Common made an estimated 12 million dollars, making him equal in earnings to Eminem and Akon, tied for the 13th highest grossing Hip-Hop artist.
The eighth album from Chicago hip-hop artist Common was originally scheduled to be released on June 24, 2008 under the name Invincible Summer, but he announced at a Temple University concert that he would change it to Universal Mind Control. The release date was pushed back to September 30, 2008 due to Common filming Wanted. The release date was set for November 11, 2008, however it was once again pushed back to December 9, 2008.
The album's eponymous lead single "Universal Mind Control", was officially released on July 1, 2008, via the US iTunes Store as part of The Announcement EP (sold as Universal Mind Control EP in the UK). The song features Pharrell, who also produced the track. The Announcement EP included an additional track track titled "Announcement", also featuring Pharrell. The video for the lead single was filmed in September by director Hype Williams. In 2009, Common was prominently featured throughout his GOOD Music label-mate Kid Cudi's debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day, as a narrator and featured artist. In late 2009, it was revealed Common was nominated for two Grammys at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for "Make Her Say", alongside Kid Cudi and Kanye West, as well as Best Rap Album for Universal Mind Control.
American producer No I.D., stated that he and Kanye West will be producing Common's next album The Dreamer/The Believer, due sometime in 2011. In July 2011, it was announced that No I.D. will be the album's sole producer. Common made an appearance on The Jonas Brothers' most recent album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times as a guest rapper for the group's new song, "Don't Charge Me for the Crime."
On July 6, 2011, Common released his first single, titled "Ghetto Dreams", from his next album. A second single,"Blue Sky", was released on October 4, 2011. On December 20, 2011, Common released his ninth solo album titled The Dreamer, The Believer. Although he left GOOD Music in 2011, Common was featured on the label's first compilation album, 2012's Cruel Summer. Common released a song entitled "Sweet", from The Dreamer/The Believer, which included lyrics critical of rappers who sing, although this criticism was not aimed specifically at Canadian recording artist Drake. Drake took offense and responded by releasing "Stay Schemin'", a song with Rick Ross and French Montana. Common fans only had to wait two-and-a-half days for him to respond to Drake's diss track. On February 13, 2012, Common commented on the feud by saying "It's over. But it was all in the art of hip hop. He said some things to me so I had to say some things back...I wouldn't say but I know I heard something that I felt was directed to me so I addressed it. That's all. But you know, thank God we were able to move forward from it and all is good."
After a quiet 2012, Common announced he would release an extended play (EP) in January 2013, and his first mixtape in April. In February 2013, Common announced his tenth solo studio album would be released in September 2013 and will feature Kanye West and production from Kanye West and No I.D.. Later on September 8, 2013, he gave an update to his projects saying the previously announced EP would be released soon, and would feature a song with new Def Jam signee Vince Staples. He also told HipHopDX, his tenth solo studio album would be released in early 2014.
On January 6, 2014, Common announced his tenth studio album to be titled Nobody Smiling and would be produced entirely by longtime collaborator No I.D.. The album, which Common revealed was originally going to be an EP, is set to feature Vince Staples, James Fauntleroy and "some new artists from Chicago." The concept of the album was inspired by his troubled hometown of Chicago: "We came up with this concept 'nobody's smiling.' It was really a thought that came about because of all the violence in Chicago," he says. "It happens in Chicago, but it's happening around the world in many ways." He continues, "We was talking about the conditions of what's happening, when I say 'nobody's smiling.' But it's really a call to action." On June 4, 2014, it was announced Common signed a recording contract with Def Jam Recordings and No I.D.'s Artium Records. It was also announced Nobody's Smiling would be released July 22, 2014.
In 2003, Common appeared on the American UPN sitcom Girlfriends. In the episode "Take This Poem and Call Me in the Morning", he appeared as Omar, a slam poet who competes with fellow poet Sivad (played by Saul Williams) for the affection of Lynn Searcy (played by Persia White). He also had a cameo appearance on an episode of UPN's One on One, where he played a drama class instructor named Darius. He also made an appearance on the ABC show "Scrubs". In 2007, Common appeared with Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, and Alicia Keys in the crime film Smokin' Aces. He made his big screen debut as villainous Mob enforcer Sir Ivy. He appeared alongside Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, The RZA and T.I. in the 2007 crime thriller American Gangster. On January 20, 2007, one week before the opening of Smokin Aces, he appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch as himself. The show's host was Piven, his Aces co-star.
In 2007 Common played the role of Smokin' Aces co-star Alicia Keys's boyfriend in the music video "Like You'll Never See Me Again".
In 2008, he starred in the film adaptation of the comic book Wanted alongside Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Common also appeared in the movie Street Kings alongside Keanu Reeves, Hugh Laurie, The Game, and Forest Whitaker. Common also starred in the 2010 movie Just Wright as a basketball player that falls in love with his trainer Queen Latifah. He also appeared in the 2009 film Terminator Salvation as John Connor's lieutenant Barnes. He starred as a corrupt cop in the 2010 comedy Date Night with Steve Carell and Tina Fey. His most recent role, as part of the ensemble cast of AMC's Hell on Wheels, is portraying one of the lead characters, Elam Ferguson, a recently freed slave trying to find his place in the world.
In 2006, Common was a model for photos of The Gap's fall season collection, appearing on posters in stores. Later that year, he performed in The Gap's "Holiday in Your Hood" themed Peace Love Gap. In February 2007, Common signed a deal with New Era to promote their new line of Layers fitted caps. Common also stars in a television commercial for the 2008 Lincoln Navigator. He appears in NBA 2K8 in NBA Blacktop mode. In the fall of 2008, Common appeared in an ad for Microsoft's Zune, comparing his new song, "Universal Mind Control", to "Planet Rock", a song from hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. Also, he featured in the Diesel campaign for a new fragrance called "Only The Brave". His song "Be (intro)" is featured in a commercial for BlackBerry as of January 2011.
In December 2008, Common launched a new clothing line in partnership with Microsoft titled "Softwear", based on 1980s computing.
Common was invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to appear at a poetry reading on May 11, 2011 at the White House. This caused furor with the New Jersey State Police and their union, who disagreed with his lyrical content. The president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association voiced concern to the White House. They cite the song "A Song For Assata" about a member of the Black Liberation Army and step-aunt of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur named Assata Shakur, previously known as Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted in 1977 of the first degree murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster.
At another poetry reading, Common said, "flyers say 'free Mumia' on my freezer", a reference to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was controversially convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Common stated, "The one thing that shouldn't be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day."
Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary at the time, spoke for President Obama on the matter by saying the president does not support, but actually opposes, some of the kind of words and lyrics that have been written by Common and others. Even though the president does not support the lyrics in question, he believed that some reports were distorting what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly. Common gave a single line response to the entire controversy: "I guess Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn't like me."
Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show questioned Fox News' coverage of the controversy, saying that they "took the time to ignore Common's entire body of work, save for one poem he wrote in 2007 that they appear to misunderstand." Stewart also pointed out that in 2002, George W. Bush honored Johnny Cash, whose songs contain violent lyrics. Stewart further pointed out that Fox News itself offered positive coverage of Common's career in 2010, and that Sean Hannity, who criticized Common's White House invitation, is a friend of musician Ted Nugent, who in clips played on The Daily Show, used violent rhetoric in comments he made about President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Common later discussed the matter with Stewart during a September 14, 2011 appearance on the program.
In September 2011, Common published his memoir, One Day It'll All Make Sense, through Atria Books. As the book details how his close relationship with his mother influenced his life, it is partially narrated by her.
Common used to be vegan, but is now a pescetarian. In addition, he is a supporter of animal rights and PETA. He appeared in a print advertisement for PETA titled "Think Before You Eat".
Common is also part of the "Knowing Is Beautiful" movement, which supports HIV/AIDS awareness. He is featured in the video for "Yes We Can", a song in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama, which made its debut on the internet on February 2, 2008. Common has pledged to stop using anti-gay lyrics in his music.
Common is the founder of the Common Ground Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to empower underprivileged youth to be strong citizens and citizens of the world. The foundation includes programs dedicated to leadership development & empowerment, educational development, creative expression, as well as a book club. In 2014 Common Ground inaugurated the Aahh! Fest music festival in Chicago's Union Park.
Common has had romantic relationships with singer Erykah Badu, actress Taraji P. Henson, and tennis player Serena Williams, but as of July 2014 maintained that he was single.