NEAR WEST SIDE — Despite his socially conscious reputation, South Side-born rapper and actor Common is no stranger to fights. In fact, Louis Farrakhan once had to mediate one between him and West Coast rappers in the 1990s.
He's learned from his past, and has some advice for feuding rappers in his hometown.
Use your music "as a vessel and vehicle to get out of the stuff we have going on in our neighborhoods."
And beware what you post on social media and rap about. Both can trigger street violence.
"Each tweet you make that's negative, each song that you make that's got something against somebody, taking them down — it can come back to you and you don't want that," Common said.
"Just realize when you do say something, whether it's on social media or you're saying something in a song, it can end up becoming something you don't want to take it to. Somebody could lose their life," he said.
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. in the Avalon Park neighborhood, was back in Chicago Tuesday for the opening night of the Canon PIXMA PRO City Senses photo exhibit at Ignite Glass Studios on the Near West Side. He contributed a photo of a baseball base captioned: "First base. You gotta start somewhere."
In an interview with DNAinfo Chicago, he talked about his past rap beefs — and today's rap scene in Chicago.
In the 1990s, he traded disses with West Coast rap group Westside Connection following the release of a Common song many felt was putting down the West Coast. In the wake of the feud, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan "brought everybody together to have a peace meeting."
"We didn't know what it could escalate to," Common said.
"At the time Biggie Smalls and Tupac had just lost their lives, so we realized this could get out of hand," said Common, who also has traded verbal barbs with rapper Drake. "What I learned was that hip-hop is always about the battle — but don't take it past the records."
Common — now a 41-year-old emcee with two Grammy Awards, critically acclaimed albums and numerous acting roles in movies and television under his belt — passed along a message of peace for young rappers in Chicago who haven't learned the lesson he learned as a 25-year-old rapper.
In addressing the rash of rap-related murders in Chicago in the last year, Common lamented the 2012 death of 18-year-old rapper Joseph "Lil Jojo" Coleman, saying "God bless his soul."
Coleman had been beefing with rappers Chief Keef, Lil Reese, Lil Durk and the Black Disciples street gang and was gunned down in Englewood hours after tweeting his location, saying, "I'm out here." His murder remains unsolved.
From Common's perspective, Chicago's drill music scene, despite its promotion of violence and deadly themes, is "something that is relevant," and speaks volumes about the experiences of Chicago youth.
Social context aside, Common said he's a person who believes that when it comes to art and music, "If it's good it's good."
"There's some good drill music, and there's some drill music that's not good," Common said, with a chuckle. "I can appreciate the good drill music, and I respect the fact that it's a movement."
The rapper emphasized that there's no "Chicago sound," but rather a diverse mix of musical perspectives on Chicago, from the violent street tales of Chief Keef to the thoughtful, fun-loving raps of Chance the Rapper.
"Whether its King Louie, Chief Keef, Lil Reese ... all these guys represent a certain aspect of Chicago, and then you have Chance the Rapper who represents another aspect of Chicago. I like that those guys are doing their thing," he said. "I like that there's a Chicago movement — and a variety of music. That's one thing I always appreciated about Chicago, that you had myself, you had Kanye, Lupe and you also had Twista, and each of us raps different."
All art to Common "is divine expression," he said.
The multifaceted artist lives in Los Angeles and said he travels a ton, but makes it back to Chicago, his real home, about seven to 10 times a year.
One place Common, a healthy eater, said he always has to visit for good eats in Chicago is the vegan restaurant Karyn's on Green at 130 S. Green St.
His other must-visit spot is in Chatham, at his mother's house, where he said the food can't be beat.
What he misses most about the South Side is "how authentic the people are."
He said the people of Chicago can be "aloof, but have a warmth to them," to go along with a "city slickness."