Common shares stories and wisdom in Iowa City

In celebration of The Iowa City Book Festival, rapper and social advocate Common speaks with black student leaders about his experiences.


Katie Goodale

Music artist Common addresses members of the media during a Meet and Greet at the Voxman Music Building in Iowa City on Oct. 6, 2018. The meet and greet, organized by AFRO house, gave African-American students the opportunity to talk with Common about his successes and struggles.

Adrian Enzastiga, Arts Reporter

A man of many artistic hats, Common arrived in Iowa City on the afternoon of Oct. 6.

Hip-hop artist, novelist, and actor Common held a book signing at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., and spoke at Hancher about his book One Day It’ll All Make Sense with a theme of “greatness” surrounding his talk. The event was sponsored by the University of Iowa Lecture Committee. Common also has a book set to come out in May 2019.

In addition to his book signing and Hancher show, he made time to speak with a group of UI African-American student leaders. During the meeting, Common discussed how he became such a successful artist — first, he said, one needs to have a set goal.

“You gotta focus on something,” he said. “Even if it’s not tangible, it’s there in your mind.”

Common said that, even when attending college, his mind was set on being a hip-hop artist. He sacrificed hanging out with friends and locked himself in his dorm for hours at a time practicing his rap skills.

“Find what you are and what your voice is, when it comes to being an artist,” he said. “Or if you’re playing an instrument, find what you want to say with your art. That’s almost as important as being skilled at the craft is having something that is you.”

Free speech for the black man should be exactly what it is for every other human being in this country, and really in the planet. Free speech should be our right to be able to say what we think and what we feel.

— Common, rapper and activist

He noted that he would never be done growing. Even when he finally had a record on the radio, he still had to evolve.

“The higher you go, the more excellence that’ll be demanded of you,” he said.

Common believes that one must be ever-changing in order to remain relevant and successful.

“Part of it is always staying open to what’s present,” he said. “Always check out new stuff in genres that may be not exactly what you normally listen to. Go outside of your comfort zone, and check out new art.”

As a successful artist, Common said, he feels as if he needs to be a voice for the African-American community across the nation.

“When I look at black culture across the country, we’re usually the ones not getting the same opportunities,” he said. “When I see what we are going through, I can’t help but feel responsible to speak up.”

Common said he wants to make a stand for people who don’t have as big a voice; he wants to fight discrimination and supports free speech.

“Free speech for the black man should be exactly what it is for every other human being in this country and, really, on the planet. Free speech should be our right to be able to say what we think and what we feel,” Common said. “As black men, we still have got to embrace it, and know that it’s our right, and use it in the wise ways that our ancestors did.”

He takes pride in his religious beliefs, declaring that freedom of speech is a God-given right.

“No amount of money can stray me away from my faith,” Common said. “My relationship with God helps my relationship with people.”

He talked about being scrutinized in the media and said he is proud of who he is.

“I’m going to be who I am wherever I go,” he said. “We are coming to the table saying, ‘This is who we are,’ and I don’t change for nobody.”