Oscar- and Grammy-winning rapper/actor Common told Whitney Young Magnet High School seniors Monday that handling competition in show business has taught him something important: to let love have the last word.
The hip-hop star — who hails from Chicago — encouraged the soon-to-be graduates to do the same thing during an exclusive on-campus conversation with seniors, where he took group selfies, performed with the school’s jazz musicians and touted the virtues of practicing self-love.
“To practice the philosophy of sharing love, you first have to work on loving yourself,” Common said Monday. “It’s hard to hate when you love yourself because you can see the joy, and you can take victory in somebody else’s victory,” he said.
Common’s appearance was the school’s last gift to the senior class before they receive their high school diplomas next Friday. And he took advantage of the opportunity to share some wisdom he’s gained from the recording business and his TV/film career.
“Once I started recognizing that I am who I am and the roles that are meant for me, I’m going to get, I started sending positive energy when those other people got those roles,” he said. “It made me feel greater and I was able to focus more on what I’m supposed to be doing and less on thinking that person didn’t deserve that.”
Some of Common’s most popular hits include “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and “The Light,” and he has won an Oscar and Grammy for his original songwriting for the song “Glory” in the 2014 film “Selma.”
These and other life experiences led him to write his new memoir, “Let Love Have the Last Word.”
Senior Justin Woods — a member of the Common Ground Foundation, a leadership program the rapper founded for high school students in underserved communities — was able to sit next to Common and ask him questions about his life and career.
“It was surreal. I was just happy to have the opportunity,” Woods said. “It was fun to get to know him more on a musical and artistic level. It was definitely a blast, and I know everyone enjoyed it,” Woods said.
Common’s message about love will be helpful in the future, Woods said.
“Especially for us as seniors moving on to college, it’s really important to make sure our mental health is ready for a new environment,” Woods said.
“It’s important to be ... able to express yourself in a way that is meaningful and positive,” Woods said.
With help from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jim Barbick, Whitney Young’s director of bands, was able to make Common’s appearance happen Monday, hours before the artist’s scheduled performance with members of the CSO.
After Common answered a few questions from students, Whitney Young’s Jazz Combo performed a mashup of records by the late producer J Dilla, who often worked with Common. While they played Common’s “So Far to Go” and a few other songs, the artist grabbed a mic and freestyled along with them.
For senior bass player Tyler Thenstedt, playing for Common was the perfect way to end the school year.
“All of my friends are in agreement that this is the coolest thing that has happened to us this year,” Thenstedt said. “He’s an award winner and we have seen him on TV so this is a huge moment for us.
“I have been practicing in my bedroom just thinking about how I get to play in front of him,” Thenstedt said. “This is his song — he worked so hard to figure out what he wanted to do with his music, and we get to do our best to represent that in a way that would make him happy. It’s been really great to try and do that.”