Typically, if you’re heading to the Smith Center, it’s to see a hit musical like The Book of Mormon or to catch celebrated jazz singer Clint Holmes. You wouldn’t expect to see a rap concert on the performing arts center’s upcoming calendar—but the artist headlining Reynolds Hall on July 20 isn’t your typical rap fare.
Common is one of the most prolific and influential figures to ever a) touch a mic; b) jump onscreen—from portraying a villain in John Wick 2 to a civil rights activist in Selma; c) advocate for prison reform; d) pen a memoir; or e) perform at the White House. To simply label him a rapper would be like saying Superman is just a guy who wears a cape.
That said, Common is coming to the Smith Center to rap. It’s something the Chicago native has done remarkably well since dropping his debut album in 1992, when he was known as Common Sense. To put his skill into perspective, Jay-Z once rapped, “Truthfully I want to rhyme like Common Sense/But I did five mil, I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.”
While Beyoncé’s husband chose money over meaning, Common has rarely strayed from soulful, purpose-driven rap. Among his earliest claim to fame was 1994’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” a metaphorical lament on hip-hop’s swing from Afrocentricity to gangsta rap. Between then and now he has served up hip-hop classics, like love letter “The Light,” steamy fantasy “Go!,” Chicago anthem “Southside” and the powerful “Letter to the Free.”
Common’s most recent solo album, 2016’s Black America Again, was his most potent. On the title track, he raps, “Trayvon’ll never get to be an older man/Black children, they childhood stole from them.” Just-released single “Hercules”—from his forthcoming 12th LP, Let Love—finds Common rapping like it’s ’92, punctuating the dark, ominous production with stuttered rhymes and playful inflections.
Inspired by his own book, Let Love Have the Last Word, the album promises to be personal and spiritual, “the culmination of this journey, this passion and this divine love that I have for one of God’s greatest gifts—music,” he said in a press release.
COMMON July 20, 7:30 p.m., $39-$79. Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000.