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Rapper Common Calls For Open Hearts, Open Minds In 'Let Love Have The Last Word'

With Meghna Chakrabarti

“Let Love Have the Last Word” is a daily commitment for the rapper Common. It’s also the title of his new memoir. He joins us.


Common, rapper, songwriter and actor. Author of “ Let Love Have the Last Word” and “ One Day It’ll All Make Sense.” ( @common)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “Let Love Have the Last Word” by Common

A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.

—Frederick Douglass

I was standing in front of a full-length mirror, in the middle of a fashion designer’s studio in Beverly Hills. It was hot outside, the clear blue sky was hazy, and the sun warmed the concrete. My truck was parked along the curb, and I was thinking about a peaceful, quiet drive. In the meantime, I looked at myself in the mirror.

Kendrick’s new album DAMN. was on shuffle, and I bobbed my head while my assistant, Aun, sat next to my charging phone, checking her own phone and answering emails, answering texts, cleaning up the calendar, all for the sake of me. I was the center of this work, and—I kept looking at myself.

I knew who I saw when I saw the face staring back at me— it had been more or less the same face for forty-plus years now—yet I thought: Who is that? Is that me? Someone asked me a question about a jacket, and I shook my head. “Nah,” I said.

I could hear Micaela, my stylist, sighing. She was there on the laptop, or I should say in my laptop, propped up on a chair; she watched my fitting from her remote location via FaceTime. I asked her where she was at, and she named the city, said she was working and visiting friends, and I told her I had just been out there myself, and I couldn’t wait to get back.

I am blessed with this opportunity of mine to move about the world . . . it is vital, and it has only increased as time goes by. From vans and buses, touring around the country, doing campus shows back in the early 1990s, to now, present day, flying across the country and around the world.

At the time of this fitting, I was in Los Angeles, my home away from Chicago, and the fitting was for a benefit concert I’d been asked to do. There was a red-carpet appearance scheduled prior to the show.

“Try this on.” I slipped my arms through a dark-brown jacket, this one more my taste. I jerked my shoulders up and down. “Feels a little snug but it looks dope,” I said, staring at my reflection again. I turned to the left, then to the right; I checked to see where the jacket ended—at my hips, almost a perfect fit. “I think that one,” Micaela said through the laptop, “but we have another one in green. Let’s try that one. And let’s swap out the shoes for the all-white sneakers.”

And like that, the stylist’s assistants buzzed around me with swift movements. I stood there in front of the mirror, and asked Aun what time it was. “Just before two,” she said, looking up from her phone. She reminded me about the meetings I had later in the day. Meetings. I was to sit down with a director who was shooting a film I wanted in on, and I had a call with a cop from a city police department who was helping me prepare for another possible role, a homicide detective.

Then I had scripts to read, and phone calls to return. I wanted to get to the recording studio later, but the possibility seemed more remote by the minute—hence the desire to go for a drive. At least there, in my truck, I could rap to myself over some instrumentals, or to no music at all. Rapping to myself without purpose, only because I loved to do it.

Speaking of love, I’ve been rapping for more than twenty-five years now. I would rap for free. I would rap if I lived on the streets. I would rap if I was a preacher, a prisoner, or a politician. I was paid $5,000 for my first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar?—an amount that was split among three people. The label got us for the cheap, no doubt, but I was grateful at the time to be paid anything for something I loved to do and would have done no matter the cost.

That I’ve since received more money for rapping speaks to perseverance, I suppose, or market forces. Rapping is my release, my art, my way of expression. It’s a desire that comes from my spirit, and whenever I can appease the desire to rap, I do. And if I can’t do it in a studio, then I’ll go for a drive, alone, and do it there, happily and at peace.

The fitting went on for a little while longer. I tried on a couple more outfits, made my choices, which Micaela approved with a thumbs-up from the laptop, and said my goodbyes and thanks to the staff as Aun and I departed. After trying on the fresh clothes, I felt dressed down when I was back in my T-shirt and basketball shorts, my usual outfit when I work out at the gym with my trainer; I often get along with him, but at the time, he and I were having a slight disagreement. It was about politics, something involving the president, barely six months into his first term, who had everyone on edge, it seemed, prepared for disaster. After Barack Obama, the world felt uncertain and unstable, unpredictable, and dark.

When Aun and I stepped outside, the Southern California heat assaulted us. “Damn,” I said, shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand. Aun and I were walking down the sidewalk, hardly a few yards from my stylist’s building, when someone shouted me out. “Are you Common?”

I didn’t even see him until he said my name, a slim white dude wearing shorts and a red shirt; the shirt matched his Nike trainers, and the hatchback he pointed to when he said, “I was just parking my car and I saw you step out and I was like, ‘Yo, is that Common?’ Your music changed my life, and it blessed my life, too.” He told me his name, and I shook his hand. He said he was a yoga teacher, and a personal trainer. “I trained Kobe,” he said. I had no idea if that was true or if he was just running a hustle; in either case, he gave me his business card. “I’d love to train with you,” he said. I said, “Cool,” then thanked him for the card as I climbed into my truck, started the ignition, and peeled out. I started the day staring at myself in the mirror; likewise, this memoir is a reflection of me as I examine myself and consider love from its beautiful dimensions.

From LET LOVE HAVE THE LAST WORD: A Memoir by Common. Copyright © 2019 by Common. Reprinted by permission of Atria, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Washington Post: “ Sick of bad news? Common wants you to read his new book as the antidote.” — “There’s something a bit different about rapper/actor/activist Common’s book tour stop in Washington. For one, it’s in the middle of the day. Impossibly cool people with fuchsia bangs and purple lipstick are listening to R&B and sipping rosé on the rooftop of the socially conscious Eaton hotel on a Tuesday afternoon, waiting in an incense-infused lounge for Common to show up and discuss his second book, ‘Let Love Have the Last Word.’

“This is hardly one of those stuffy networking-as-cocktail-party book events that Washington does so often.

“When Common, who performed at the Kennedy Center the night before, finally shows up an hour later, the conversation leans more toward self-care and spirituality than 2020 and Trump tweets. In fact, according to the rapper, his latest book is something of a panacea to the political divisiveness invading your Facebook feed.”

Billboard: “ Common Gets Honest & Vulnerable at ‘Let Love Have the Last Word’ Album Listening Party in Hollywood” — “Earlier this month, Common released his brand-new memoir, Let Love Have the Last Word, in which he gets open and honest with fans about his life experiences. Just days after releasing his new book, Common announced plans to release an accompanying new album of the same name inspired by his work on the memoir.

“On Tuesday night, Common previewed his forthcoming album at an exclusive listening party in Hollywood ahead of its release. The listening party was an intimate event, with about 50 people in attendance in a private studio. During the event, Common told everyone in the room that his new album was inspired during the writing of his book and noted that the project is extremely personal, touching on aspects of his life he has yet to explore in his career.

“‘I decided to make this album because my team was like, “With the release of the book, you should share this story,”‘ Common told attendees. ‘I use music as an outlet. The book was really personal, and as an artist, I really wanted to express that in my music as well.’ ”

HuffPost: “ Common’s Self-Care Advice Is Giving Us Life” — “Common is dropping some serious wisdom on healing, self-love and therapy. And everyone should pay attention.

“The Emmy, Grammy and Academy Award-winning rapper, actor and author appeared on a panel in Washington, D.C., this week to share his latest book, ‘Let Love Have The Last Word.’ The memoir includes stories about his youth, his relationship with his family, his career and, most importantly, his healing process to overcome childhood (and adulthood) trauma.

“‘Times are really messed up. We’re losing touch with our beauty and humanity and all the beautiful things that exist and we’re not even focusing on working on ourselves. So what are we going to do to change it? That was really the heart and soul of why I wrote the book,’ Common said during the panel discussion. ‘I want people’s lives to be better. I want to help people in any way that I can. If this book can help then I put myself out there.’

“The rapper discussed sexual molestation in his childhood, his sometimes strained relationship with his daughter (who recently graduated from Howard University) and how hip-hop and Black culture have influenced, hindered and encouraged his growth. He also talked about how therapy and a closer relationship with God has helped him.”

Hilary McQuilkin produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.