Q&A: Common on Taking on Interviewer Role for New Audible Series with Nas, Tiffany Haddish and More

Unable to tour in 2020, musicians have had to find new ways to communicate with their audiences. Rapper/actor/activist Common has teamed up with Audible for Mind Power Mixtape, his second original program with Audible after Bluebird Memories.

In the six-episode show, premiering today (November 19) Common takes on the role of host, speaking with Nas; Tiffany Haddish; two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali; ballerina Misty Copeland; comedian/political commentator Hasan Minhaj and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson.

It’s been part of a prolific year for the Chicago-born artist, who also released the album A Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1), featuring Lenny Kravitz, Chuck D., Stevie Wonder, PJ and more.

I spoke with Common about both the album and series, about taking on the role of interviewer and some surprising choices he’d want to include if the series continues.

Do you consider this an interview or a conversation show?

Common: Well, I think within the Mind Power Mixtape conversations existed and then there were some aspects that felt like an interview. Not felt like an interview, but I had some questions I did want to ask, some thought questions I had before. But after gaining experience I realized it’s really just a conversation. It was a joy and a journey for me to lead the conversation and just be my show. And I did have to come up with questions because you don’t know how everybody is in these conversations. Or it’s different too when you’re interviewing someone you know, like when I talked with Tiffany it was different. So I really enjoyed it. In certain was I felt like it was another way of artistic expression. And I just love to talk and I love to listen to. So what you said earlier I felt like I got to learn a lot.

Were there moments in the shows that stood out to you the most?

Common: I remember each one of them because they all had their own personality and connection and identity. That being said, Nas telling me how much his mother, her wisdom and knowledge helped shape him in the way he thought and the way he dealt with women. Nas is one of my favorite artists ever. I think he’s one of the greatest American writers. Also him telling me he really thought he was just gonna make one album and that was it, so he put his all into that Illmatic cause he was just like, “Man, might be one album. This is what it is.” [And] Tiffany, for me, it was getting to know that she used to do Shakespeare and she was really into it. And then she started going into some information, she started naming someone who helped Shakespeare write, a black woman she was talking about. And I was like, “I gotta do my research.” Cause Tiffany is a very smart and in-depth person. I definitely discovered that.  Then with Mahershala Ali we talked for three and a half hours. Obviously we not gonna have the whole talk. But it was just me getting into him, knowing how much he adores and loves making music was something I didn’t expect. And he told me how his father really helped shape him as an artist cause his father was doing theater. He started talking about this sweater father bought him and he still has the sweater. It was his father showing him you could be you and be free. At one point Misty Copeland started talking about how she used to rhyme, she had a group. And I was like, “What?” So I really approached a lot of the talks, the Mind, Power Mixtape, I used music as a vehicle too. I would ask them different questions about music. One of the things I would say is, “What was the first hip-hop song to touch your soul?” Or “What’s the first song to touch your soul?” You get to know a lot about people when they talk about certain music or things that they share. And they gonna elaborate anyway because music connects with your soul in so many ways, it connects with your spirit. It was a lot of fun. I thought of it like artistic expression.

Really obvious question, but what was the first song that touched your soul?

Common: (Laughs) The first hip-hop song that touched my soul, probably “Sucker M.C.’s” by Run-DMC. And I think it was just because it made me want to be a part of hip hop. It hit my soul.

Is there a childhood song you go back to?

Common: For me Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You” is like that song that touched my soul. I remember my baby sitter playing that and something about it always hit me.

This is the second project you’ve done with Audible. It is cool there are so many services, like Audible, giving artists a new way to communicate with fans. What has this meant to you?

Common: I think what I discovered is this is a great way to learn about myself, to share things about myself, different ways to express my creativity and at the same token give people who do know about me more insight . And I wanted to do the same for the people I was talking to, that I was having conversations with. And I also feel like the platform of Audible allows me to reach new audiences that may be going to check out some other material, book or different things. They may not even be so hip to Common, but maybe like, “Oh, wow, let me check them out.” They may know me as an actor or as a musician, but to hear these conversations they would get to know me differently. And I also think it’s such a like beautiful canvas for me to be able to use to paint things because Audible did give me an opportunity from Bluebird Memories to Mind Power Mixtape to really come up with my own ideas. Even the title Mind Power Mixtape we started the conversation off with a little music and I do this kind of ad-lib talking and then at the end of every conversation I pick a verse that I feel like describes that person and describes the conversation. And they allowed me to be creative with it like that. And to be honest for 2020 Bluebird Memories and Mind Power Mixtape were already in route in the last year, the ideas of doing them. But 2020 allowed us to explore it and do more with it. And it also made it easier for me to nail down some of these people I was talking to. It allowed me, the people I dreamed of talking to, it allowed me to get that done in a good amount of time and they were open to it. And it also showed the range of what deep conversations can be and what I’m interested in.

If you do a second season who would you like to have on there?

Common: Shia LaBeouf, Maya Rudolph, the sister who wrote the book Americana (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), Rihanna, those are the people, maybe Rakim. Some of those were people we were talking to and thinking about before we did our six. What’s funny is I was really only supposed to do five and then I was like, “I want to do six, seven.” I was getting into it.

So do you see yourself doing more of these then?

Common: I would love for this to be part of what I do. I don’t know how many of this series I would do, but I would love to do it again because I was talking to Reese Witherspoon, different people about doing them. And I think it would be so dope. Sometimes you get people you wouldn’t know that I would like, [like] Shia LeBeouf. When I seen his film, I gained a whole different respect for him too. I already respected him as an actor, but I didn’t know what he had been through as a human being. And to see him tell that story, it was a well-told story and he’s one of them interesting people, into hip hop, different stuff. And he seemed raw, like authentic to who he is. So I would love to talk to him.

You also just released A Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1). Talk about getting that mix of releasing music and doing the Audible project, so you have multiple ways to express yourself when there is so much to say in 2020.

Common: Revolutionary songs capture urgency at a time, inspire you through it, they can move you to it, they can help heal. They help refocus the mind and give you a charge. Every movement and change had music to be a part of it. During the Civil Rights movement they were singing songs and that’s why we heard Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte and Sam Cooke, even though that was pre-Civil Rights. But those songs, man they were singing. And even those hymns they were singing, and then obviously with hip hop it’s being true to your movement and a conduit of change. KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, they all had certain songs that were socially conscious. Or like take Brand Nubians, all those groups influenced me. So I wanted to make music because like we talked about Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley, these are artists who impacted my life  in ways greater than I could probably describe. I know what people were experiencing, I felt it, I wasn’t even thinking about making music in May or June. I just was doing other things. But I went into the studio to do a song for a children’s show, it felt uplifting. We were doing it for this show Bookmark on Netflix that’s like people reading brown and black stories for kids of all nationalities. But it was children’s books. So we wrote this inspiring song, “Don’t Forget Who You Are,” and I was like, “Man, this music is making me feel optimistic.” And I was like, “Let’s just do an album. This will speak to the people.”

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