“At a certain point you have to show a fool what a king or queen’s supposed to be.”
There may not be a better (read: sharper and impassioned) voice to a lead a discussion on activism and community in the arts than writer, poet and all-around badass Chinaka Hodge. In 2016’s destructive wake of police brutality and killings, the Oakland poet sliced through a painful year with an immeasurably powerful TED reading.
Last night in the afterglow of KING‘s Kennedy Center healing, Hodge was joined by Common in the inaugural installation of the DC institution’s ArtChangeUS speaker series. The room, a renovated side cavern of a monolithic multi-stage arts center, flowed over with smiles, wine and, in the case of one particularly-anxious audience member, burning inquiry. Dim-lit and mood-specific, the stage was furnished with a pair of chairs and turntables. Hodge and Com embraced then nestled into their respective seats.
With the rapper’s hometown under fire by state and federal administrations, Chicago and its impact on his artistry commenced a conversation that would eventually delve into how the city shaped not only his style and musical pedigree, but his spiritual core and lens to the world. He laments over the city’s shortcomings, but notes that the need to reclaim its narrative and salutes fellow native Chance The Rapper for his vocal descent of the Illinois governor, and his sizable donation to the city’s public school system. They’d go on to discuss the ways hip-hop has historically excluded the narratives of the LGBTQ community, how to correct the course, and how a pair of fans compelled the rapper to look inward and erase the vestiges of close-mindedness.
After praising his mother and father for their influence on his music and a less than conventional Southside upbringing, their discussion capped off with a riff on triple threat rapper/actor/activists, a perfect opportunity for Com to gush over the genius of friend and longtime collaborator, Yasiin Bey, including Tupac, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube and Kanye West on his list (in that order).
And now, the stage is set for tonight’s Kennedy Center program: Common’s first-ever performance with an orchestra, no less The National Symphony Orchestra. Revisit Chinaka Hodge and Common’s discussion down below and tune in tonight for a live stream of a career-spanning performance.