Oscar-winning rapper Common divulges secrets to success

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Joe Schwartz
Josephine Engreitz
Oscar-winning rapper Common speaks about his path to success March 2 at Bailey Hall.

“Find your path. Believe in your path. And live your path.”

An audience of 1,300 flocked to a sold-out Bailey Hall March 2 to hear critically acclaimed rapper/actor/activist Common share his wisdom about the path to greatness. The event took place just a week after Common and collaborator John Legend won Best Original Song at the 2015 Academy Awards for their song, “Glory,” from the civil rights movement movie “Selma.”

Common (born Lonnie Rashid Lynn) opened his speech with a two-minute freestyle rap, giving shout-outs to audience members and demonstrating his talent as a lyricist.

“How many of you want to achieve greatness?” Common asked the audience. “If you’re undecided, just put your hand up anyway,” he added, eliciting chuckles. “I’m here to tell you that something great is in you. You have something great to contribute to this world. I’m here to tell you that you’re greater than you act sometimes. I’m here to tell you that you must train and work hard to reach the greatness that you want to reach.”

Common urged Cornell students to look up from their textbooks and engage in the community. As for his own engagement in the so-called “conscious hip-hop” movement, Common said: “Hip-hop still has a real powerful relevance. … The job of a hip-hop artist like myself … is to be able to use the platform to create change that’s beyond just making music. How can I go out and affect communities?”

Humor and humility resonated throughout the speech. Common relayed personal accounts from his childhood on Chicago’s South Side. From faking sick on the middle school basketball court to distract from his poor performance, to passing gas in math class to “get the ladies’ attention,” Common’s 12-year-old self put the now 42-year-old, 6-foot-tall, award-winning rapper into perspective.

Citing the challenges that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. faced in his struggle for racial equality during the civil rights movement, Common assured the audience that hardships are a part of the path to greatness. “Challenges will come, but they will help you grow,” he said.

Common warned that on the path to greatness, others might lose faith in you. After recounting his mother’s disproval of his decision to drop out of college to pursue a rap career, Common quipped, “Fast-forward, and she’s like, ‘Hurry up and make your new album – I need a new car.’” Belief in oneself is key, he said. “And belief is contagious – if you believe in yourself, others will start to believe in you, too.”

In 2006, Common was nominated for five Grammy awards and went home empty-handed. The next morning he was back in the studio making music and moving forward with his career. He would later win a Grammy, an Oscar, a Golden Globe and numerous other prestigious awards. Patience and perseverance are crucial, Common said.

Common encouraged audience members to let their inner greatness shine, and to inspire others to do the same. “We can’t be afraid to wear our greatness, because it’s a gift that’s given to us, that only we have … it’s our duty to wear it,” he said.

Josephine Engreitz ’15 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle. 

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