Common’s voice has all the elements and idiosyncrasies of a basketball court in any metropolitan city. It’s raw and authentic; raspy and a bit of street.
He calls out "roll call" at the start of a video the NBA used to launch the 2014-15 season. He could have easily been calling for players to announce themselves on the blacktop of a court in his hometown Chicago.
But Common wasn’t always confident in the voice that made him famous and launched a rap career that spans two decades and evolved into a successful run in film.
“I remember when I was young and I first started rapping, I hadn’t embraced my voice yet,” he said. “I would try to make it deeper. I would rap in this tone that wasn’t even my voice. Then, eventually, I found my voice, and finding my voice was like finding myself in a way. It was really about embracing who I am and what I’m about.”
His multi-talented, multi-Grammy-winning voice is recognizable anywhere, from his music to movies. He begins his "Nobody’s Smiling“ Tour with Jay Electronica November 8 in Europe and stars in the upcoming civil rights film Selma, scheduled to release in February.
It’s hard to believe that Common, whose voice was also used in Gatorade’s G Series commercial that launched for the 2010 Super Bowl, could be self-conscious about anything after having also found success in television, books, and through his foundation, The Common Ground. The Chi-town rapper is quick to offer “I’m a blessed man” as an explanation. But the truth is that he’s a disciplined workhorse. The evidence is in his diet.
Common used to practice a vegan diet but now mainly eats fish and vegetables. He gave up pork in 1992, beef in ’95 and chicken in ’99. He works out four to five days a week, teaming with trainer Quison Dodd for a series of short, explosive, high-intensity workouts.
He was recently in Los Angeles, where he’s filming a new television show, but gave us some time to talk about everything from his upcoming film, to his training habits, to his affinity for red wine – although he promises that he’s not taking any red wine baths a la Amare Stoudemire.
Men’s Fitness: At age 42, and with such a crazy schedule, how do you keep up your fitness?
Common: Man, I work out four days a week and if possible, five. But I’ve been improving my workouts by doing things that are active. I’m not just pumping weights. I work with the bands. Today I was doing drills where it felt like I was doing basketball drills. I never used to do a lot of cardio and I still don’t do a lot of cardio because then I get real thin. But basically it’s just constant workouts and overall I just eat healthy. Of course I have days where I might go in on some French fries but overall it’s a pretty clean diet.
You talked about all the things you don’t eat. What do you get to eat?
I eat seafood. It’s not really complex. It’s real simple. I like different cuisines. I like Mexican food. Soul food is my favorite. Then I have my little cookies. They're not the worst cookies, but I get them in there. I have to treat myself because I don’t want to live not enjoying certain aspects of life.
But I’ve got to say: I eat this way because it’s my lifestyle. … I’m also not drinking as much. That’s one thing I do want to mention. I haven’t been drinking as much. I like wine and sangria.
Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks made some waves by posting an Instagram photo bathing in red wine for recovery reasons. You aren’t doing that, are you?
Man, I don’t take baths unless I’m with a lady.
Everyone is talking facial hair now that No-Shave November is here. You’ve always been about rocking an impeccable beard. What’s the secret?
I’ve got great barbers. I’m going to keep it real. I’ve got a barber in Brooklyn named Junior. He’s a master and I use my man Kelvin out in LA. They keep my beard tight. I’m real keen on my beard because I’m bald-headed and when you are bald, your beard is your hairstyle. That’s the only way you can change your look up and that’s the only way you can groom yourself is to look sharp and clean. So I just deal with the best. Anything I do, I just want it to be the best.
Talk about teaming with the NBA to launch the 2014-15 season with the Everybody Up campaign.
The experience was super dope and everybody from the NBA entertainment branch, they treated me with a lot of love. We went in and I had been filming this television show earlier that day. I just went into the studio and it was a late night and they gave me some ideas of what they wanted and we just tried it out different ways. It was a high energy thing. But people know Common, they know me to be chill. But the energy is there and you can just feel that spirit and that life.
What can you tell us about the upcoming film you’re starring in (Selma) which is produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt?
It’s about Dr. [Martin Luther] King and the people in the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] in 1965 and the people in Selma [Alabama]. They went across the country fighting for voting rights and they did it in a non-violent way. The fight was non-violent but it was really a rebel fight, because to be non-violent, it’s hard, bruh. People think of Dr. King sometimes and they think “Ah, man. That’s soft.” But he’s a real dude. You can feel that in his movie and it’s about him and these people who changed the world.
I play James Bevel. He’s one of King’s right-hand men. He’s really one of the most radical out of the SCLC. What I love about this movie is that when you think of King you think that he was out there doing it by himself. But you get to see that it was James Bevel, my character, and Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams, and all these people. And the women in the movement: Diane Nash, Anna Lee Cooper. And so many people lost their lives – so many people contributed to the freedom that we have today and still fight for right now.