This past weekend, Common took time off from being recognized to give recognition. At an inaugural gala fundraiser for his non-profit organization, Common Ground Foundation, the rap star/actor honored Maya Angelou, actress Keke Palmer, businesswoman Dee Robinson Reid and actress/TV personality Sherri Shepherd for offering leadership through their respective fields. Shortly before the affair, we spoke with Common about his foundation and his place in hip hop’s current world order.
Your foundation’s aim is to instill leadership qualities in youth. How does it go about doing that?
We have programs set up through this community building called The Light House. We run programs for the kids, everything from creative arts classes to cooking classes. Or we set up sessions or dialogues to help build self-esteem. It’s just trying to build their self-image by taking the things they are interested in and showing them there are ways to achieve what they want in life.
What criteria did Common Ground have for recognizing the honorees at the fundraiser?
We wanted to have people who have had an impact on culture, and someone who has shown a presence in their respective fields of work. Whether they are doing it through art or through activism (and Maya Angelou has done both). Someone may do it through acting, like Keke Palmer, who inspires young people to pursue their goals. Or it can be someone who is a personality, like Sherri Shepherd, or who does it through business, like Dee Robinson Reid. These are different aspects and ways of inspiring young people.
You recently finished working on your 9thalbum, The Dreamer, The Believer. Heavy title, what’s the concept?
To create some hip hop that has the spirit and the energy of what hip hop had in 1995, but still presents something new. A new sound, new thoughts, new concepts, but still has that essence—the way the music made you feel when you heard Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang or anyone great from that era.
On the acting front, you’re starring in an upcoming TV drama series called Hell On Wheels.
We did the pilot. I’m about to shoot the rest of the series. Actually, I’m going to be doing this for a minute. The show is about the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad, so it’s a period piece. And I have a great role. I’m playing the character Elam, who’s a freed slave, but I’m a rebel. While I work on the railroad, I’m also seeking power, which makes it a juicy character. I’m very excited about the way the show was written.
Any other acting projects you working on?
I’m working on an independent film titled L.U.V., which stands for Learning Uncle Vernon. It’s a coming-of-age story about a little kid whose uncle takes him out for the day. And the day doesn’t go the way the uncle planned it. A lot of great actors are in it like Dennis Haysbert and Lonette McKee. It’s directed by a young guy out of Baltimore name Sheldon Candis.
(Photo: Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images)