Common, who has openly worried about the violence in Chicago, was in his hometown Friday to help celebrate the city’s music scene when he was confronted with a brutal reminder of what he’s been talking about: a story about a hail of gunfire that wounded 13 people.
“It makes me think I got to do more; we got to do more,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press after giving a speech as the keynote speaker at the Chicago Music Summit, a conference to help local musicians and music professionals with their careers.
Police say last Thursday night’s shooting appears to be gang related. For the 41-year-old Common, that underscores concerns that the edgy rap music of the generation of rappers that came behind him is not only providing the soundtrack for gangs, but might just be helping to fuel the fire of gang violence.
“To decide to take someone’s life, I don’t think they let a rap song determine that,” he said, adding that rap artists simply reflect the violence of the streets, and don’t cause it. At the same time, he said, fans of young rappers, whose music provides a window into a violent lifestyle, are “influenced by that energy and take it the wrong way.”
Common has thought about it enough to once suggest a “peace summit” with Chief Keef, a younger Chicago rapper whose music includes references to weapons and who was arrested after pointing a gun at police officers and after a video showed him firing a semi-automatic rifle at a gun range. In fact, rap music made its way into last Thursday’s shooting. A relative of a 3-year-old boy who was shot in the face said the child’s uncle was an aspiring rapper who was fatally shot in Chicago this month.
Such a link is not surprising to Grammy-winning rap artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith. He said he believes that at the very least aspiring rappers who are living in poor neighborhoods see the display of a violent gang lifestyle as their route to riches and fame.
“What you get with a lot of young artists is if they gang bang on YouTube, pull guns and threaten someone else, this will give them a million YouTube views or 80,000 Twitter followers overnight,” said Rhymefest, a Chicago resident who once ran for a seat on the City Council. “They see it as a check, a way to get paid and this way out of poverty.”
Common said the key to ending the cycle of violence that rap music has been linked to for years is more educational programs and other initiatives, and that rap artists should help those programs in any way they can. At the same time, Common, who has his own foundation that exposes disadvantaged young people to the creative arts, said that while he still believes a “peace summit” would be effective, it is only a first step.
“There has to be a consistent follow through,” he said. “Young people … some of them may not be in a place where they can say, ‘OK, I’m going to stop (violent behavior)'” he said. “It may be a process. You have to deal with that.”