By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added October 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm
When world-renowned rapper, poet, author and actor Common took the stage Wednesday night in the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Grand Ballroom, no one really knew what he would say.
Many people thought it would be nothing more than an excuse to sell a few more copies of his memoir, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense.”
Fortunately for the hundreds of fans who came to see him speak, he had much more to say.
The theme of the night’s lecture was greatness. Through spoken word, freestyle rap and classic storytelling, Common took the audience through his journey toward greatness.
Remarkably, as he tells it, the journey only became conscious about six years ago. It’s quite interesting to think a man who has been releasing albums for nearly 20 years, many of which are considered to be lyrical classics, would believe his journey to greatness only began recently.
He explains his rationale: “I was willing to play second fiddle, not only in that relationship but also in friendships that I had. What I mean by ‘second fiddle’ is that I was willing to dim my light, because I didn’t want to offend other people.”
This statement was specifically a comment on a revelation he received about his life while enduring the heartbreak that came after the end of his relationship with soul singer Erykah Badu. But he believes the sentiment explains much of his life up to that point.
Because he fell in the trappings of being accommodating, he encourages the audience to avoid that path.
“When you have a light, and we all got light, you ain’t supposed to keep it under the table,” he said. “You got to put on so that everyone can see it. You can’t be afraid to wear your greatness.”
Common shared many other stories and anecdotes from his childhood and the early days of his career. The one that seems to have had the longest lasting effect on his life was the story of Emmett Till.
In 1955, Till was the victim of a vicious, racially motivated murder. Because of the brutality of the murder and the large amount of national media attention the case received, Till became a martyr in the then-ongoing black civil rights movement.
Common believes the spirit of Till helped push him to strive for greatness.
“I didn’t see it but I felt it,” he said. “I felt the spirit say, ‘there’s something great in you that you have to give to this world. There’s something great inside of you.’”
This lecture was a rare insight into the mind of a man who most people know solely through his public persona.
The person the audience got to see Wednesday night was real, vulnerable, relatable and genuinely conscious of his journey and struggles. He had wisdom to share and the audience gladly accepted it.
After his 40-minute lecture came to an end, the crowd erupted in applause. He then participated in a short question and answer session with a few members from the audience. During this Q&A he gave a few hugs and shared a frank perspective on the recent scandal concerning a particular poem, which erupted as a result of his invitation to the White House by Michelle Obama.
Although the evening contained many memorable quotes, stories and lessons, the moment most people will be talking about is the impromptu seven-minute mini-slam poetry session he shared with an audience member.
While many people might consider challenging a Grammy award-winning lyricist to a poetry battle to be suicide, the audience seemed to be behind the brave young man.
As the audience filed out of the grand ballroom, many hurried to get CDs, photos and books signed by the man of the hour.
Only a limited number got the chance, which left many people with a bad taste in their mouths.
“I’m a little upset because I love Common and I really wanted to get my book signed,” junior Brit Jackson said.
“I bought a second copy so I could keep it forever.”
While the night might not have ended as some had hoped, the overall feeling was positive.
When asked how she felt about the show, Kanesha Jones said, “It was very inspirational. Common is great speaker.”