Common: Push-ups, Tiffany Haddish and where the rapper finds inspiration and peace
Every Friday, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers hosts The Washington Post's first Instagram Live show from his barn in Concord, Mass. He has interviewed, among others, musician Elvis Costello, comedian Sarah Cooper and actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
Recently, Edgers chatted with rapper Common.
Q: I was watching you on Instagram Live, and you're out there doing push-ups. You did 37 in your second set, which is not shabby.
A: Some people challenge my push-ups and say that I'm not going far down enough, but I feel it. So that's what matters, right? One thing I always tell people is that working out is not for show. You're not doing it for other people. You're doing it for yourself. So don't worry if somebody can do more squats than you. So what? Feel good. Look good. That's what it's about.
Q: I noticed (rapper and producer of hip-hop group EPMD) Erick Sermon watching you on IG and giving encouragement.
A: When I saw his name, I was just like, "Man, this is EPMD." When I work out, I have a playlist that I create — it's almost all '90s hip-hop. EPMD was one of the groups that inspired me to want to be an artist. And Erick Sermon is not only one of the members of the group, but one of the greats when it comes to producing.
Q: It's funny that as an adult, you don't feel the same way about music as you did as a kid — at 15 or 16. Am I right about that? So, for example, Kendrick Lamar — who I think is a genius — his music doesn't hit me in the same way as when I saw Public Enemy on "Saturday Night Live" play "Can't Truss It."
A: It's so funny you brought up Kendrick, because I actually look at him as one of the greatest artists. He's so talented and poetic. I was doing something at the Kennedy Center when President Obama was president (marking the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture). It was myself, Chuck D and Doug E. Fresh, reading these different lyrics of different artists. From Langston Hughes to Maya Angelou to Kendrick Lamar to Nas. And I didn't know what song it was from Kendrick, but I was like, "Wow, Kendrick is incredible." But I have to say, I did listen to his (2017 album) "Damn" album a good amount of times, but I still don't know it like I know (Nas's 1994 album) "Illmatic." I can say probably every word.
Q: Do you think you are now discovering and feeling certain music from the '60s that you didn't know?
A: Yeah, I feel that with genres of music that I didn't listen to when I was 14 or 15. So now if I hear (jazz musician) Rahsaan Roland Kirk, I can connect with jazz in a different way. And blues guys, too, like Freddie King, I'm like, "How did I miss this is the first time around?" Then you realize it's because the music transcends time.
Q: You released "Letter to the Free" four years ago. If you put that out today, people would say, "Oh, Common was influenced by what's going on with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd."
A: My goal is to create music that is part of people's hearts and souls and minds, and really create something that is divine. Divine music has no time to it. Like, I've listened to Fela Kuti. His music was made in the '70s, but it felt brand new to me when I first got into it. And it came from his spirit. I heard someone say the same thing about Nina Simone. I wasn't up on Nina Simone as a kid. "Love Supreme" by John Coltrane. That album is something that just resonates with me and touches me in different ways.
Q: One of the things I've been listening to during this pandemic is your Audible Mind Power Mixtape. It's basically a podcast series with creative people. You had Tiffany Haddish on, who I think is one of the funniest, most amazing people in the universe. We use the word unique too much, but she is a unique human being. I know you are close; what have you learned from her?
A: I think what I've learned most from Tiffany is that authenticity is one of the truest things you could ever have in life. That's something I always wanted to have more of myself, just to be able to say exactly what's on my mind. But she has a way of saying the truth, and even if it sounds harsh, it's still coming from a place of respect and love. Last year, at the Laugh Factory, she was feeding some homeless people. And one guy was like, "Man, I got a script for you." And she said, "You know, bro, I will take it, but your breath, man. You've got to do something with your breath right now." I wish I had that.
Q: You seem so positive, like you're really doing well — being creative and doing push-ups. Are you at all down during this moment of time? And what do you do to keep your spirits up?
A: Look, I've definitely had moments where I've been down, where I felt alone, where I felt like "What is going on in the world?" But several things have allowed me to get out of that. My relationship with God is something that I work on every day. Building that relationship is the most important relationship that exists for me. And in believing in God, I work in a higher power. I'm not trying to say you got to be this and be that. I also have other ways that I feel God functions to do healing and also finding peace, one of which has been meditation. I've been able to meditate more and just settle myself. I also listen to music that's uplifting and music that makes me feel good. I think the prayer and the combination of those things have helped bring me peace.
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