Common’s Latest Video Envisions a World With Empty Prisons & A True End to Slavery
With his eleventh studio album, Common continued the conceptual theme he began with 2014’s Nobody’s Smiling, in which he addressed gun violence and other racially disproportionate issues plaguing his native Chicago. November’s Black America Again takes a broader view of sociopolitical Hip-Hop, inspired in part by the gravity of 2016’s presidential election. As Donald Trump continues to appoint predominantly White males to his cabinet, Common’s LP title serves an important reminder of the power the oppressed yield, despite what our governing body looks like. “Pyramids” examined the spiritual power of Black music, “Home” centered on Black excellence, and the title track celebrates the strength in diversity represented by the spectrum of Black American faces and stories.
Today (December 15), Com Sense drops the visuals for “Letter to the Free,” yet another exploration of Black America’s multifaceted realities. This time, mass incarceration is given the video treatment, but it takes place in an empty prison. In fact, it’s a powerful portrayal of freedom more than anything else, asking viewers to imagine what the country would look like if the millions of unfairly punished Black men and women were given their rightful liberties to move about life as fully endowed citizens. As a metaphor, the jailhouse serves as a reminder that slavery continues to exist in one form or another, and with Common’s lyrics about lynching, the fact that “institution ain’t just a building,” and allusions to the new Jim Crow, the message is clear.
Featuring Robert Glasper (who cowrote the song), Bilal, and other musicians, “Letter to the Free” is sparse in its visual complexity, but is nonetheless arresting.