As an actor, Common the rapper has showed up in Terminator: Salvation, Just Wright, and every episode of AMC's Hell on Wheels. Now he stars in the indie drama Luv as a former inmate whose young nephew (played luminously by then-10-year-old Michael Rainey Jr.) joins him for a day in the life of a one-time criminal trying to become a legitimate businessman. First-time director Sheldon Candis accurately described the movie as "Pursuit of Happyness punched in the face with Training Day." Here, Common discusses becoming his young co-star's favorite rapper, feeling feelings, and what fans can expect from his forthcoming tenth album.
What's Michael Rainey Jr. like? Does he want to be an actor, or was that just a kid acting like a kid?
Oh, man, he's totally an actor. This is actually his second film; his first film he did was an Italian film. He spoke Italian in it and was amazing; I thought the kid was from Italy, that's how talented he is. He's this great little soul; he has an old soul to him. Not just soul, but he has a certain level of intelligence and creativity that you feel is from an older dimension, older world. But then he's still a kid; he still has fun. He's just a creative force. His creativity comes through in music, in acting — he wants to do it all.
He must've looked up to you, since you do both.
In interviews, he would say I'm his favorite rapper. I guess I may have become that for him once he got to know me, but I mean, he did know a lot of hip-hop. He knew the Wu-Tang. He knew Slick Rick.
Are you a father? Did that affect how you reacted to this story of a boy who's dying for a role model?
I am a father. A time it really affected me most was handing Woody the gun, because it really made me think about the cyclical aspect of our lives, where a lot of inner city kids are into guns, whether figuratively or literally. The lifestyle of street life and violence and lack of self-love — they handed that, that's given to them, that's passed on to them. And that's something that's been going on for generations, and it was sad for me because I knew that that's where it stemmed from. My character was perpetuating the cycle, playing a part in it.
It's tough to watch sometimes. There's a moment when your character, Vincent, tells the boy, "You can't let him see fear, ever." What's your take on boys and men being permitted and encouraged to show they're vulnerable like everyone else? In Vincent's world, that's just not a reality.
When Vincent is telling him that, I think he's telling him from the tactic of "This is how you will survive, this is how you'll make it." But anybody, any human being needs to know that your emotions are your emotions. You have to be sincere in your feelings. And fear is one of those sometimes, doubt is one of those, jealousy, anger — all your emotions are not going to be considered the strong emotions, all of them are not going to be love, happiness, joy. What I would tell a kid is, "Hey, you will feel these things, but don't let those things control you and determine your perspective, because it's important that you feel it." And I do feel that black men, we have to understand that it's okay to feel feelings. We kinda harbor it, and when it's harbored, it comes out in ways that's not as positive. Whereas if you do express it, you may get some advice, get some insight, get some words to help you. You may get a chance to just get it out, and it's helpful. I can tell you that just from being an actor and musician. Sometimes just getting out my emotions is part of the therapy.
When's your tenth record coming out?
The album will be coming out by probably near the fall, because I'm going back to shoot Hell on Wheels in late April.
What can people expect?
New beginnings, new energy. You can expect to hear me rapping on music that you never heard me rapping on before. It's gonna be fresh. It's gonna be original.
Who's working on that?
I'm definitely looking at some of the producers like Travi$ Scott, No I.D., 88-Keys, Hit-Boy. This has been the first time I'm open to working and not having just one, two producers and that's it.
Will Kanye be in the mix?
I want him to. I definitely would love him to.
Does G.O.O.D. Music really have a Cruel Winter album coming?
Oh, yeah, nah, nah. I don't think that's happening. It was more of a rumor — cats been creating, but everybody's been doing their solo album. So that's what that is.