March 13, 1972
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Erykah Badu, Serena Williams
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A critically lauded, underground hip-hop artist who eventually found mainstream success with his artistically daring and politically conscious music, Common eventually parlayed his profile into acting. Common began his career as a cult figure in alternative hip-hop in the early 1990s, at a time when commercial rap was dominated by warring gangstas from both coasts. With his literary lyrics focused more on love and spirituality than drugs and guns, Common built a following among music critics and hip-hop fans alienated by the negative direction of gangsta rap. He earned some backlash for doing so, but eventually triumphed in the late 1990s amidst a growing revival of old school hip-hop. Following a number of best-selling, Grammy-winning albums, he began an acting career. Unlike Common's musical content, which was socially outspoken and positive, his early supporting film roles found him playing just the type of street thugs his music had railed against. As he began to find his footing in action and comedy features, Common proved that his magnetism and persona as a stage performer translated quite well to big screen characters.
Born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. on March 13, 1972, in Chicago, IL, Common was the son of a teacher, Dr. Mahalia Anne Hines, and former pro basketball player, Lonnie Lynn. He was raised mainly by his mother following his parents' divorce, who stressed the importance of education and regular attendance at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side with her son. Common wrote his first rap - an homage to Cincinnati rappers Bond Hill Crew - in his early teens and by high school, began performing as an MC with a group called CDR, achieving some local airplay and opening larger shows for national groups. He left the group to attend Florida A & M University where he worked towards a business degree, but continued refining his lyrical style and recording demo taps. When one of those early tapes led to Common's inclusion in the Unsigned Hype column in Source magazine, he left school and shifted his focus to a music career. Under the name Common Sense, he released Can I Borrow a Dollar? in 1992. The indie met with generally positive reviews and earned the budding artist a cult following on the underground hip-hop scene. His 1994 follow-up release Resurrection built on that promising start and displayed a literary, politically conscious lyricist who was unafraid to go against the popular (and lucrative) trend of gangsta rap. Some of his lyrics, including on the song "I Used to Love H.E.R.," openly criticized the path hip-hop was taking, which sparked a highly publicized defense from West Coast rapper, Ice Cube.
Controversy surrounding the rappers' debate generated significant attention to the lesser-known Common Sense, bringing mainstream attention and increased interest in the kinder agenda of alternative hip-hop. The spat with Ice Cube also brought Common Sense to the attention of a ska band with the same name, whose lawsuit prompted the artist to shorten his name to Common. After relocating from Chicago to Brooklyn, NY, Common's profile continued to rise with a contract with Relativity Records, coupled with the appearance of his single "The Remedy" in the film "Get on the Bus" (1996). One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997) found a wider audience than Common's previous releases, thanks in part to a growing revival of the early, more poetic and political days of hip-hop. The well-received album included collaborations with like-minded artists Lauryn Hill from The Fugees, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, Canibus, and Black Thought from The Roots, and led to a contract with MCA Records. While Common worked on his new album, some of his earlier recordings began to make it into films, including the boxing biopic "The Hurricane" (1999) and Spike Lee's satire "Bamboozled" (2000).
His first MCA effort Like Water for Chocolate (2000) which incorporated sophisticated jazz and world beats, was truly a breakthrough success for Common, earning gold-selling status, receiving mainstream radio play, and greatly expanding his fan base among critics and listeners. The most popular single, "The Light," was nominated for a Grammy. The 2002 release Electric Circus, a more personal, experimental outing marked by electric rock and electronica-influenced tracks, did not do as well commercially or with critics as his previous efforts. In addition to branching out musically that year, Common also began to explore new territory by making his big screen debut in "Brown Sugar," appearing in a cameo as himself in the romantic comedy about a music executive (Taye Diggs) and a music journalist (Sanaa Lathan). He also appeared on Public Television the following year as part of an all-star homage to Muddy Waters in the documentary miniseries, "The Blues" (PBS, 2003), and received a Grammy Award for the single "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)" - a duet performed with then-girlfriend Erykah Badu.
Common's next album, Be was released in May 2005, and was largely produced by fellow Chicagoan and longtime fan, Kanye West. West's wunderkind status greatly boosted the album's popularity, finally pushing Common over the platinum sales mark and earning him four Grammy nominations, including one for Best Rap Album. Along with West, he took home the award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for "Southside." Making the jump to acting, Common landed guest roles on the sitcoms "Girlfriends" (UPN, 2000- ) and "One on One" (UPN, 2001- ). He performed a number of songs in "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" (2006) and his album Finding Forever (2007), also produced with West, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Album Charts. After Common appeared as a GAP model in 2006, his acting career began to take off with his role as a Mafia bodyguard in Joe Carnahan's Tarantino-inspired crime comedy, "Smokin' Aces" (2007), after which he was romantically linked to co-stars Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson. In 2007, Common also launched the Common Ground Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering and educating children in underserved communities.
While Common's music and philanthropic career proudly voiced an opposite philosophy and lifestyle to gangsta rap, his early film roles found Common in the criminal underworld with supporting roles in the Academy Award-nominated "American Gangster" (2007), as well as "Street Kings" (2008) and "Wanted" (2008). Like 2002's Electric Circus, reception was divided over Common's eighth studio record, Universal Mind Control, though the uneven effort did hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hip-Hop Album charts. Continuing to focus on his fledgling acting career, Common played a Resistance officer in the well-executed, crowd-pleasing sequel, "Terminator Salvation" (2009), and finally retreated to kinder territory in the romantic comedy "Date Night" (2010) starring TV stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
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