Common is no stranger to showing emotion. With more than 20 years in the spotlight, the Chicago-hailing rapper, actor and activist has worn his heart on his sleeve publicly for years and won plenty of accolades for it. Common is one of the few distinguished artists to have won an Emmy, Grammy and Oscar award in the span of his career. (He's just one statue shy of being an "EGOT.") Now, at 47 years old, Common's latest album, Let Love, is all about embracing love in all its forms — the kind that only comes with age and wisdom.
Let Love tackles Common's relationships with himself, his past romantic partners and with his college-aged daughter, Omoye. Looking at these relationships has caused Common to have some personal revelations. On the track "Show Me That You Love" featuring Jill Scott and Samora Pinderhughes, Common recounts pivotal conversations he's had with his daughter where she finally expressed her frustrations with him not being around.
"I think she showed me the first thing is love is an action word," Common says. "As much as I could tell her, 'You know I love you,' the actions have to connect to that."
Common looks at their father-daughter relationship through a new lens since having those tough-but-necessary conversations. "What has happened in progress is that she is open to communicating these things because some of her fear of communication was fear of making me upset," he explains. "Now, she's like I can be exactly who I am and I know my father's gonna love me anyway."
On the track "Fifth Story" featuring Leikeli47, Common spins a tale of infidelity with some soap opera-level theatrics: "She remember goin' up flights smellin' perfume / And seein' blue hair in the bathroom / As Terry mumbled, tellin' his story / She pushed him out the window of the fifth story."
Though Common says the cheating in "Fifth Story" is based on his imagination, he admits he's cheated in past relationships and that going to therapy inspired him to examine patterns in his relationships and behavior he never considered before.
"I grew up thinking therapy was something black people don't do," he explains. "When you knew somebody was going to a therapist you looked at them like, 'Man, something was really wrong with them.' Not knowing there was something wrong with me too."
Another revelation Common had recently was that he was molested as a child by a family friend. He details uncovering this blocked trauma as an adult in his latest memoir, Let Love Have the Last Word, as well as on the album.
"When I first talked about being molested as a kid, I eventually had to tell my mother ... [I learned] after it happened within our family before. I had no idea," he says. "So, how can we heal it if we don't talk about it? If we don't get help?"
Through all this processing, the rapper realizes that slowing down his pace has helped him heal: "There is moments where you just have to be still. I wasn't still a lot."
Common spoke with NPR's Ailsa Change about the themes of Let Love and what he learned about himself while making it. Hear their conversation at the audio link.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The rapper Common is feeling the love on his new album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD IS LOVE")
COMMON: (Rapping) It's in the grandchild's stare up at Papa. Love is love became the mantra, the montage for creation. We need it in relation. When two ships pass, one love is the flotation.
CHANG: But it took a lot of work for Common to get to a place where he could even write an album like this one. It's called "Let Love." He does some serious self-examination on his record about the abuse he endured in his past and about his relationships, both with the women he dates and with his family. That process started with a late-night phone call from his daughter.
COMMON: My phone rang, and I saw it was Omoye, my daughter. I could tell she had been drinking. She was in college. You know, we had a brief conversation, and I told her, look. I have to work in the morning, so I'll talk to you later. So, like, three minutes later, she called me back and just started spewing out a lot of her feelings. Like, you don't even care. You didn't even see if I was OK. You didn't see where I was at.
COMMON: And I was just, you know, defensive because you feel like, man, I've given you love, you know? Like, I love my daughter, so - but just because my expression of love and intention is to love in that way that I know how and I think is the best doesn't mean that's how that person is receiving it.
COMMON: And within that, whether I agree or don't agree, it's still - the most important thing is to listen to the person, to hear them.
CHANG: When she was saying these things to you - I felt like you didn't care about me because you seem so busy; you seem to value other things more than me - was there a part of you that could recognize, at some level, that what she was saying was true?
COMMON: I think that's when you know it hurts because there is some truth in the fact of - in pursuit of a career - in pursuit of my career; I can speak for me - many people that I love didn't get some of the time. They didn't get as much time as they may have normally gotten if I was working a different type of job. You know, I just wasn't as truly available.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW ME THAT YOU LOVE")
COMMON: (Rapping) She said, it's the things that you didn't do, not what you did. It hurt her spirit when she saw me with another woman's kid. Peeled back and thought, to love her, I got to listen. Now love in action is the new vision. She said, Dad, let your actions be your loudest speaker. And now my daughter is now my teacher with love.
CHANG: I want to talk about a different kind of love now - romantic love. You should know that three women were involved in preparing for this interview - myself, my producer and my editor - and one of our absolute favorite lyrics in this entire album is about a cheating husband.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIFTH STORY")
COMMON: (Rapping) The clerk said, Mr. Terry, yo, you left your Visa, and it was really real good to meet your wife. Her blue hair was fresh. Her perfume was nice. Things got ice, ice. He about the feel that spice, spice. She remember going up flights, smelling perfume and seeing blue hair in the bathroom. As Terry mumbled, telling his story, she pushed him out the window of the fifth story.
CHANG: She pushed him out the window of the fifth story. OK, who is this song about? Or who is it for?
COMMON: Oh, well...
CHANG: There's a backstory here.
COMMON: No. My imagination - that's the one thing I love about creating and writing. Now, obviously, throughout my life, at some point, I've been in a relationship and went outside of that relationship.
CHANG: You've cheated before.
COMMON: Yeah, I cheated.
COMMON: I think with Omoye's mom, I really, at that moment, decided to be more honest in my relationships. Therapy has helped.
CHANG: Yeah, I want to talk about that. Is that why you started going to therapy - was because you wanted to figure out what going on with your relationships?
COMMON: Yeah. I found myself repeating the same things in relationships. Some of the things that I was projecting onto the relationships was more about the relationship with me and my mom, meaning...
CHANG: In what way?
COMMON: Being a single mom with a young man, especially if the father's left early - that can cause, you know, a lot of responsibility onto a child. When I experience certain things in a relationship that feels like somebody needs me more than I want to be needed...
CHANG: Than you're able to give...
COMMON: Yeah, than I'm able to give - I'm like - it triggers things to happen...
CHANG: When you were a little boy...
COMMON: ...When I was a little boy. So that's where therapy has helped me to identify this is actually something that's from the past and I'm projecting onto this relationship.
CHANG: And did you grow up thinking about therapy as a good way to figure out life?
COMMON: No. I grew up thinking therapy was something black people don't do. When you knew somebody was going to a therapist, you looked at them like, man, something is really wrong with you, not knowing that it was something wrong with me, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD MORNING LOVE")
COMMON: (Rapping) As a black man, I feel I should be sharing this. In the hood, they say we crazy and we derelicts, but we need it for our kids and our marriages. The old folks say we don't do that, but taking care of self is the new black.
COMMON: The truth of the matter is, like, we inherit certain trauma just from generation - it's generational, like, what slavery has been in our lives or just in the breaking up of families and what - the way that's passed down. But then just to experience, like, sometimes, what your parents have been through and what they thought of, the abuse that they may not even know and they took on - and I bring that up because when I first talked about being molested as a kid and I eventually had to tell my mother after, it had happened within our family before.
CHANG: Oh, wow. And you had no idea? Or you...
COMMON: I had no idea.
COMMON: So how can we heal it if we don't talk about it, if we don't, like, get help?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEMORIES OF HOME")
COMMON: (Rapping) As I kept building, there were cranes in the sky. Certain memories, my brain would deny. A tear laid in my eye. I was afraid to reply to the hurt that was calling. It came from the sky. An older play cousin - of course I trust him, but he was touching where he wasn't supposed to be touching. What's a kid supposed to do when they going through what I was going through, don't know who to go to? You want to tell somebody.
CHANG: Do you think that maybe by being so busy all the time for years and years and years, that delayed some of your healing?
COMMON: Yes, I do believe that. I think that drive is a gift, but there is moments where you just have to be still. I wasn't still a lot to take time to heal. And mind you, when I talk about therapy, I only think that is one tool. I'm a very, like, God-loving, spiritual person, and I know people, you know, stray away from God talk, but I'm a believer in God, in the God that exists in all of us, in the most high God.
CHANG: You are a guy who has won Grammys, an Oscar, Emmy - right?
CHANG: You're only missing the Tony at this point. I guess I'm curious. How has your definition of success shifted as you're trying to pour yourself and focus more on relationships?
COMMON: I don't think focusing on relationship has detoured my definition of success. I think the success comes in - like, what do I do for others, and what do I do to create happiness for myself and those around me? Everything that I do that's a lot of that purpose is what makes me feel like I'm successful.
CHANG: Common - he's out with a new album called "Let Love." Thank you so much for coming into the studio today. This was such a pleasure.
COMMON: I appreciate your love and support and your grace, ma.
CHANG: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY FANCY FREE FUTURE LOVE")
COMMON: (Rapping) New shoes, new clothes - really, that glow is from your inner soul. You a good DJ as long as you ain't blow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.