COMMON AT THE WHITE HOUSE

Common head shot

I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not. That a rapper is going to the White House? No, that’s been done. That since it is a black President – and a democrat – the right wing media is up in arms? Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to.

I wouldn’t go as far as Kyle Anderson of Music Mix, saying

Common is about the least controversial rapper in the business. He’s roughly as edgy as LeVar Burton. He’s the rap version of Wayne Brady. He’s a friendly, easy-going, cross-cultural musician and actor who stars in easygoing rom-coms with Queen Latifah, only appears menacing to Tina Fey and Steve Carrell on celluloid

– um, that’s a little overdoing it, lol. I mean, Common is a positive dude, but he’s not soft. He did a dis record calling Gangsta Rapper Ice Cube a “Bitch”, remember? And he has some very controversial lyrics, mostly political. But that’s not inappropriate, for a poet or for an MC.  That’s what they do – have and express controversial ideas and opinions. But what Kyle said describing Common as a “conscious MC” is more to the point:

Common is a smart guy who uses his music to talk about complicated ideas and the vagaries of modern life. Few rappers talk about personal relationships and social injustice as astutely as Common, and his deeply-considered work is the sort of stuff that should be inspiring young people (especially those interested in poetry).

And that’s what makes him relevant to a discussion of poetry. Plenty of Common’s Hip Hop song lyrics flow like poetry and then he actually has poems as well, on HBO’s Russel Simmons presents Def Poetry, for instance. Whichever you are listening to, it is instantly clear that Common is a great communicator of ideas and expresser of passionate emotion, which perfectly describes the role of any artist. So, the fact that Michelle Obama wanted him to teach a poetry workshop to the youth (something else he has done before in his hometown Chicago) and perform some of his songs at the White House event, makes perfect sense.

Still, Hannity, Sara Palin, Karl Rove and others have all spoken out against the First Lady for inviting this “vile” rapper Common to the event. It’s really kind of laughable. I mean, read or listen to Hannity’s commentary, as published on FoxNews Website.

So, what is it they are claiming Common talks about in his raps?

1) murdering George W. Bush by settin him on fire,

2) carrying guns

3) killing cops

[* Watch some of Common’s videos, plus video footage of the White House performance and hear me call Sean Hannity and Sara Palin “a dumb ass” – after the jump!]

Okay, you can stop stop laughing now! I know, it’s ridiculous, but there is a reason they have come to this conclusion. Yes, part of it is due to the fact that Sean Hannity and Sara Palin are a “dumb ass”! (Lest anyone take offense, I mean that in a poetic,  metaphorical way. I don’t actually believe they are each one half of a horse-like animal, sometimes used to carry cargo up a mountain.)

But there is more to it than that! They are taking some phrases out of poetical context, from a poem Common recited in 2007 on HBO’s “Def Poetry,” NOT from any of his songs. They probably only ever listened to that particular poem, because someone told them Common hated on GW Bush in it, because if they looked through his musical catalogue, they would have found plenty mentions of “bitches” and “hoes” and jumped all over that, but they didn’t. They picked this poem and then, because they are not educated enough to interpret this particular poem or understand how poetry works at all in general, they “got it twisted.”

Hannity quotes Common as saying “Burn a Bush” in an OBVIOUS play on words (obvious to everyone except Hannity) and takes it to mean Common is – literally – calling for people to rush up to President Bush and light him on fire. With matches. Literally. (rolls eyes) Oh my God why hasn’t this man been arrested yet for making death threats against the President!

Hannity’s guest tries to interject that it is a metaphor, a play on words from the biblical phrase “burning bush”, but Hannity cuts him off, arguing that it isn’t, that he just mentioned Saddam, so therefor he is being literal, that Common was advocating murdering the President.

It’s hilarious what an ignoramous Hannity comes off to be in that segment, even suggesting that Common wasn’t being biblical, because he is a supporter of Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor that people didn’t like Obama associated with. Um, Hannity, you don’t have to like Jeremiah Wright, but he is still a pastor and would therefor espouse biblical text, lol, and so a follower of his would be in a uhhh … CHURCH(!), and therefor be familiar with the uhhh … BIBLE!

Poetry is often open to interpretation and it’s perfectly legitimate to have several interpretations, including one that Common feels that someone should kill the President. But that would be someone’s interpretation of a poem, not an actual death threat. Here is MY interpretation (not saying it is correct). I think he means the word “burn” as in the phrase “he got burned by the media”. Like he is saying, “down with Bush,” – politically – not down in the ground, as in dead. Yes Hannity, words in English have more than one meaning and that is part of the fun of creating poetry, that things can have double and triple meanings! I guess you never took an introductory writing course in college.

Yes, Common also makes several references to guns. However, the first one is a quote of Chuck D from Public Enemy “My Uzi weighs a ton”, from his first album, Yo, Bum Rush The Show. When Chuck said that, he “really never had a gun, but its the wax that the Terminator X spun”. I’m sure Common didn’t mean it literally either.  In Hip Hop, we call that “lyrical gats” – using the gun as a metaphor.

The second reference is to someone else saying they have a gun, not Common saying it about himself.

Dem boy chat chat on how him pop gun, “I got the black strap to make the cops run,” They watchin’ me, I’m watchin’ them

The third gun reference is at the end,

I hold up a peace sign, but I carry a gun.

That one is kind of easy. It’s a version of “walk softly and carry a big stick”. Common is saying “I don’t ask for trouble, and I advocate peace, but I am prepared to use force if needed.” Wikipedia explains that the “walk softly” metaphor

originated from the African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick ; you will go far.” The idea of negotiating peacefully simultaneously threatening with the “big stick”, or the military, ties in heavily with the idea of Realpolitik, which implies an amoral pursuit of political power that resembles Machiavellian ideals

The phrase was also part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy (see the Monroe Doctrine).

What makes it so ironic that a political advisor to the Republican party (Karl Rove), a political commentator for Fox News (Sean Hannity) and talk show host and a former candidate for Vice President are so ignorant to basic tennets of poetry, the historical reference of someone as brilliant as Common’s lines, let alone something so simple as knowledge of popular Golden Era Hip Hop.

I love what verbicidemagazine did with their “Fixed That For Ya” piece, illustrating what they believe was the real cause of the “outrage” over Common’s invitation.

Regardless of what critics say, the Associated Press reports that

The White House is standing by its decision to invite the rapper Common to participate in a poetry event despite conservative and other criticism

I look forward to reading about the outcome and will post up footage of the event as soon as I get my hands on it.[see footage of the event at the end of this article] In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of Common’s works which definitely confirm that the First Lady is not only right to invite Common as an expert on Poetry, but also confirms her and President Obama’s good taste in music.

* EPILOGUE: Common’s performance at the White House went without a hitch. His poem was beautiful and socially conscious, making reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream”. President Obama was calm and eloquent in his introduction of the Chicago born MC/Poet, ignoring and totally unphased by the unfair negative comments made by those mentioned in this article, taking the high road and not addressing it at all. Way to go, Mr. President! Handled like a pro.





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