Friday, October 3, 2014

Rapper, actor, poet, and author Common was the speaker at the second annual Gantt Symposium last night. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture brought in the Chicago star who spoke to a sold-out audience at the Knight Theater across the street. The topic of his talk was "Greatness" and he both inspired it and exemplified it.

Many hip-hop fans have followed Common's work for two decades, from his iconic 1994 song "I Used to Love H.E.R." to his 2005 classic, multi-Grammy-nominated album Be to his recently released album Nobody's Smiling. And we know he's always been a "conscious" artist, one whose songs are filled with messages about struggles, love, and prevalent social issues. We've also witnessed his movie career take off, including roles in Smokin' Aces, Wanted, Just Wright, and several others (he also has a role in the upcoming Oprah Winfrey-produced Selma).

My camera phone had trouble adjusting to the theater's darkness, but you get the picture.

And after last night, Common proved he could have a successful career as a public speaker. His prominent message was that each person should: "Find your path, believe in your path, and live your path." And he illustrated it with stories from his life: when he was a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls at age 12; how a school lesson about the death of Emmett Till forever changed him; the role his mother, an educator, played in his life and when he told her he wanted to drop out of Florida A&M University to pursue a career as a rapper; being heartbroken after his breakup with Erykah Badu; the highs and lows of his music and acting careers; and so on.

Each of those anecdotes was compelling, he was extremely engaging, oftentimes funny, and came across like a common man despite his star power. One memorable line was when he said he realized that he needed to "stop dimming his light" for people. His message of greatness and how it's in all of us, was truly inspiring.

Also, being the quintessential lyricist he is, before he began his talk, he freestyled a rap. An actual freestyle, meaning he spoke lyrics off the top of his head. "To prove that this is a real freestyle, somebody give me a word to begin with," Common said. Someone yelled, "intrigue," and that's what he built his two-minute freestyle around, while also shouting out several Charlotte references (including Mert's, Beatties Ford Road, Wells Fargo, and Queen Charlotte). Luckily, @raej captured the video on her phone, which you can watch below.

After Common's 45-minute talk, he was joined on stage by Harvey Gantt for a Q&A, where the Charlotte icon and former mayor asked questions about the generational gap and the importance of education.


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