Common Talks Chicago Music, Culture, & The “Heat” That Inspired Him & Nobody’s Smiling (Audio)

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Days before the release of his 10th studio album, Nobody’s Smiling, Common delivers an insightful interview with Combat Jack discussing the inspiration behind his upcoming album (2:45) and the significance of the cover (8:00), Chicago’s musical “heat” (11:45), his first encounter with racism (27:30), his experiences with Rev. Jeremiah Wright (32:00), meeting Michael Jordan as a youth (38:00), and being haunted by the ghost of Emmett Till (45:00).


Combat brought up an incident from Common’s youth in which he had his bicycle stolen from him and left the event feeling as if he didn’t deserve the bike in the first place (30:00). Common, who grew up with a strong support system from his mother, understood that his many of his peers were not so well off.

“…My life is pretty good. My mother doing well for me. So, me prolly felt like I didn’t deserve the bike was either my way of being like, well you know what, I don’t need this anyway because I’m seeing some of my people that don’t got… And then at the same token I prolly was like man I’m going to get my ass whooped for this bike right now.”

It’s clear that Common was learning at an early age to give back to his neighbors. Whether or not it was initially out of fear or guilt, it assisted in burgeoning ideas of paying it forward. Common, who earlier this year helped start the Chicago Youth Jobs Collaborative with Kanye West and Rhymefest, is attempting to give back once again with Nobody’s Smiling, July 22.

Related: Common Remembers Maya Angelou In This Touching Letter (Food For Thought)