In May the Chicago Hip-Hop artist Common (also known as Common Sense) was invited by Michele Obama to recite a poem at the White House. What followed was a full blown assault on the life and career of Common, Hip-Hop music and culture in general, and the supposed “socialist, cop-hating” Obama administration. Citing an obscure poem called “Letter to the Law” where Common addresses police brutality and how it leads to animosity and tension between young black men in the inner-city and the cops, Fox News commentators claimed the rapper was advocating the killing of police officers. They brought up “A Song for Assata” about the Black Panther Assata Shakur (2Pac’s aunt) who was accused of killing cops and also Common’s participation in a rally that called for the freeing of death row inmate Mumia Abul Jamal, a Black Panther accused of killing a cop. Three points should be made about why this controversy was created and why so much time was spent on it by conservative talking-heads.
Point 1: Common is not really a controversial rapper. His first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, has practically no political insight or debate. His music gradually becomes more socially conscious but the police are not a common theme in his lyrics. “A Song for Assata” was on his fourth album, Water for Chocolate, and “Letter to the Law” was not released on any of his official records. In general it’s almost impossible to find any glorification of violence, selling drugs, or disrespecting women in his lyrics. He has no criminal record and is a college graduate. After Common’s career started to take off appeared in commercials, including one for Gap. He’s been in several mainstream Hollywood movies, is involved in various charities, and donates a lot of his time to social causes especially for the youth in Chicago.
Point 2: Right-wingers are being hypocritical and selective with their criticism. It is almost too easy to demonstrate the utter hypocrisy of the Fox News crowd on this issue and Jon Stewart did just that on The Daily Show. Stewart showed a video of rocker Ted Nugent firing off a machine gun in the air while saying “Obama, come suck on this” and “Ride on this Hillary, you fuckin bitch” not to mention his song Cat Scratch fever which contains the line “I’ll make that pussy purr with the stroke of my hand” Stewart then played a clip of Sean Hannity calling Nugent “a patriot and a real good friend” when having him as a guest on his show. As a result Bill O’Reilly challenged Stewart to a debate on the issue on his show The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly stated that his beef was that Common had a pattern of sympathizing with cop killers like Abu-Jamal and Shakur. Stewart responded that Common most likely felt that Mumia and Assata were wrongfully accused of their crimes and pointed out that Bono did a song for Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement member currently locked-up for killing 2 FBI agents and Bob Dylan did a song about Hurricaine Carter, the Black boxer wrongfully imprisoned for murder. Dylan and Bono have both been to the White House, and Bono has even been on The O’Reilly Factor. In an article on the subject, Davey-D makes the point that Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has killed more cops on the screen that Common could ever rap about. I believe it is situations like this that the word hypocrisy was invented for.
Point 3: Police killing and brutalizing people, poverty, unemployment, and poor education, are the real issues and this is just another distraction.David Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association union said about Common and Hip-Hop, “the young people who read this stuff, hear this stuff, are getting a very dangerous and deadly message.” Davey-D put it best: “As radio host Skyy Brewer reminded us, ‘we stopped talking about Congressman Paul Ryan‘s proposed Draconian budget to go all out on this issue around Common’. Too many of us tried to explain Common’s body of work and defend it. Our collective response should’ve been a big ‘F$%k You’ to Dave Jones and other critics of Common’s visit to the White House. We should’ve responded by telling these folks to come holler at us when their police brethren are willing to hold accountable the police ‘thugs’ who are rarely punished for their egregious transgressions. We should be up in arms about those officers who went bursting in the home of 7 year old Aiyana Stanely Jones and killed her as they showed off for a reality TV show. It was sad to see that so many while defending Common, ignored the cries of police accountability from fellow Hip Hop artists like Paradise Gray of the legendary group X-Clan and Jasiri X of One Hood, an artist/organizer who puts out weekly songs addressing pressing issues impacting the community. Both artists have been on the ground dealing with outlandish case around Jordan Miles, a 17 year old honor student who was invited to play violin for Michelle Obama and other First Ladies of the World. Last year, Miles was beaten to the point of being unrecognized by his own mother by a group of martial arts expert police officers known as the “Jump Out Boys.” Miles a shy young man, was in route to his grandmother’s house when undercover officers jumped out, didn’t identify themselves, but demanded he hand over his money, drugs and guns. Jordan, who lives in a gang plagued neighborhood, fearing he was being robbed, ran only to be quickly subdued and viciously beaten. Many feel the decision to not go after the officers on the federal level was to keep police unions at bay come the 2012 election. That’s a big time failure on our part to not connect those dots. This discussion goes way beyond some lyrics to a song. Trust me, whatever words Common has rapped, police have heard far worse. As for the rest of us, it’s important that we continue staying the course, addressing issues of injustice and not getting sidetracked. In short if we were gonna address the Common controversy at least be sure to remind our respective audience of the day to day unresolved incidents of police brutality and terrorism visiting our communities far too often.”