Common on how the Ferguson protests inspired a Golden Globes winner

01.13.15 3 years ago

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On the morning he heard his song “Glory” with John Legend had nabbed a Golden Globes nomination, Common told HitFix it was like waking to a wave of positive energy.

“I feel more grateful than ever that I'm a part of 'Selma.' My purpose and John's purpose is to write music to inspire people. We strive to do that. It's in my heart and my soul.”

Gospel-lined “Glory” runs over the credits of “Selma,” the Ava DuVernay-directed film which also features the Grammy-nominated rapper in actor mode.

And just this past Sunday, the tune won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

It was the only honor that the Martin Luther King-focused film earned this weekend, as it was one of the very few awards to be handed to filmmakers and stars of color (Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu accepted the award for Best Screenplay for “Birdman” and Latina American Gina Rodriguez earned Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Show besides).

As Common and Legend stood at the podium to accept their award, Common reflected on even larger disparities and margins of race in America.

“I realize I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. 'Selma' has awakened my humanity,” Common continued. “We look to the future, and we want to create a better world. Now is our time to change the world. 'Selma' is now.”

I think a lot of viewers during Golden Globes and other awards shows want to be inspired, to feel in-the-moment with their favorite actors, filmmakers and creators. “Message songs” aren't always the most popular pick of the Globes, but tracks like Bruce Springsteen's “Philadelphia” or ground-breaking black artists like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder have worked — and worked hard — to earn their way into awards fan fabric.

As Common described it to me, the creation of “Glory” in itself required the same hard work and intention, “a blessing of creation toward something that can be impactful.”

“It had to be meaningful, a goal to it, a spirit, an intention to create. That's what John Legend brings out in me. It's the power to deliver what you want, beyond what you knew you wanted.”

Below is an abridged version of our Golden Globes chat. “Selma” hit theaters on Friday (Jan. 9).

HitFix: “Glory” managed to work in some lyrics about Ferguson and other thoughts surrounding the protests in New York and elsewhere. What was the whole timing behind planning and recording this song?

Common: Me and John began planning all this when Michael Brown (of Ferguson, Mo.) was killed. We began to work on the song in October. So I was aware. I have so much respect for people across America for people to stand up for justice. It came through the writing.

I was thinking how we were working on this movie, and people working to help change the situation, that's what's going on in Ferguson, New York and Chicago. Unfortunately, lives have been lost for no reason, and it has awakened people across the world. The fight is still waging. The war is about creating love and we're doing it in a non-violent way.

Do you feel like hip-hop artists have a responsibility to weigh in on protests and activism?

Hip-hop has played a big role in social consciousness across the world. It affected me as a child and teenager growing up, it helped shape me. But I don't think that a young artist — unless hey feel it in their hearts — should have to speak up if they're not feeling it. You really may not have enough information that can benefit the people. You gotta say what you mean, and mean what you say, and be active with it. I hold my self even more accountable. I always rap about change I wanna see coming. I want to be present and active in that change, and organizations that are creating that change.

What I'm saying is we all have a purpose, something we're passionate about, not everybody's voice is supposed to be used for social consciousness. Some artists don't rap about it, but they're active in other ways. Follow your purpose and your path.

Do you consider “Glory” to be a protest song?

I would consider glory an inspirational song, motivational and a sort of protest. It's about justice and love. I always pictured when i heard the piano, that this is not gonna be a rap song. It's hip-hop, but I thought about it like it could be spinning at a rally or a church, or a speech.

“Fight the Power,” that's protest music from 25 years ago. Maybe “Black Skinhead” by Kanye [West] has that type of protest to it, he's standing up, he's black and in America. That protest-to-strengthen, that's Kendrick Lamar shouting “I love myself” [in the song “i”].

You're up for some Grammys this year, do you feel like there are any lingering issues in the rap categories?

The Grammys still have the most respected credabilty. It's as high an honor as it can be when it comes to music, to honor and respect the best quality in hip-hop. I think they want to do that,  the [voters] I know. I know they want to honor and respect true hip-hop, and my expectation is  they really do make the effort.

The Grammys are not just about commercial success. They're for purity and truth — I believed they really are seeking that out. Look at this last year's nominees, they had Kanye, Kendrick, Drake, Macklemore… they're trying.

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