Hip-hop artist Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., better known by his stage name "Common," opened a lecture on the Tempe campus Tuesday night by doing what he does best: freestyle rap.
"I came to Arizona to talk about greatness," Common said to a crowd of hundreds.
The Tempe Undergraduate Student Government partnered with the Black and African Coalition to bring Common to ASU in honor of Black History Month.
Common said the first time he began dreaming about achieving greatness was when he saw Michael Jackson rise to fame and "light up the world."
"I didn't get a Jheri curl like Mike ... but Michael Jackson was somehow a light to me," he said.
Common said being "great" means using gifts to perform at the highest level and impact others.
"By doing so, you inspire others to reach their highest potential," he said. "How can you achieve that? How can I achieve that?"
When Common was 12 years old, one of his teachers shared the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was brutally beaten to death in 1955. The teen was killed after he whistled at a white woman.
"His mother decided to have an open casket so people could see the hate," Common said. "When I saw it, it shook my world."
Common said since hearing the story of the brutal beating, every once in a while he would feel a spirit tell him that he had something great to give to the world. He said he would imagine that spirit was Emmett Till's.
Common wrote his first rap during a summer he spent in Cincinnati with his cousin, whom he said was his best friend. That summer would ignite his passion for hip-hop and start him on the path of a successful music career.
"Little did I know, that would be my voice, that would be my path," he said. "This voice would take me to Japan, would take me around the U.S., would take me to Paris, would take me Africa, would take me to Arizona State University."
The artist got his first recording deal in college and would later go on to win several Grammys and be nominated for many more.
Common also acted in several films, including "American Gangster" and "Wanted."
He said all of his success stemmed from belief in his talents as well as life challenges, such as the death of the cousin with whom he wrote his first rap.
"Without struggle there is no progress," Common said. "We will continue to go through some tough times."
In addition to his success in the entertainment industry, Common is a philanthropist who supports issues such as promoting the success of youths through his nonprofit organization, the Common Ground Foundation.
Anthony Maggio, special events coordinator for USG, said Common is an influential speaker who can bring a good message to the student body.
"He has had a lot of success from his hip-hop work (and) he has a book out," Maggio said. "Maybe the entire student body doesn't support all of it, but at least he's active in his political views."
He said the event brought people together to interact with each other and become involved with the undergraduate student experience at ASU.
Exploratory freshman Clark Tate, who is originally from Illinois, said seeing Common, a Chicago-based artist, at ASU reminded him of home.
He said he didn't know much about Common's philanthropic endeavors prior to the event. Tate said Common's roots-style rap was what brought him to the lecture.
"Common appeals to a wide audience, no matter what race or ethnic group," Tate said.
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