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Common Biography: Life and Career of the Rapper and Actor

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born March 13th, 1972 in Chicago, Illinois, Common started rapping when he was in high school. He made his solo debut as Common Sense in the early 90s and began earning critical success early on, especially with the track "I Used to Love H.E.R." After changing his name to Common, the rapper found mainstream success in 2000, and this continued with his next few albums. He started acting in the second half of the decade but always went back to music. In this video, we take a look at the life and career of rapper and actor Common.

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This rapper’s had a love affair with hip hop all his life. Welcome to and today we’re taking a look at the life and career of Common.

Musical Beginnings

Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. was born March 13th, 1972 in Chicago, Illinois. In his youth, his high school rap trio C.D.R. opened for hip hop heavyweights like N.W.A and Big Daddy Kane.

Debut as Common Sense

In 1992, Lynn signed a record deal with Relativity Records and released his first single “Take it EZ” under the name Common Sense. It hit number five on the Hot Rap Singles chart and was followed by his full-length debut Can I Borrow a Dollar? that year. The album was produced by Common’s close friend and soon-to-be super-producer No I.D., who helped legitimize Chicago hip hop.

Sophomore Album

Common Sense expanded his fan base outside of his hometown to catch the attention of critics and hip hop fans across America with his follow-up effort. 1994’s Resurrection was a critical success and was named his defining record.

“I Used to Love H.E.R.”

The album’s standout single was “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” in which the rapper speaks to hip hop as if it were a woman. The song has been commonly upheld as one of his all-time greatest, as well as one of the best recordings in hip hop history. Despite this acclaim, the song created friction between Common Sense and rap group Westside Connection, which felt the lyrics insulted West Coast rap. The rivals then released a series of diss tracks but eventually settled their differences at the insistence of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Critical Success as Common

In 1997, he released his third album One Day It'll All Make Sense under the shortened moniker Common following legal action by a California reggae band called Common Sense. The critically successful disc featured collaborations with artists such as Canibus, Lauryn Hill and The Roots’ drummer, Questlove.


After signing with MCA Records and moving to New York, Common started recording with the Soulquarians in 1999. The musical collective was comprised of artists like Mos Def, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, J Dilla and Questlove.


Common’s critical and commercial breakthrough was 2000’s gold-certified Like Water for Chocolate. The single “The Light” was included on that record, and received heavy rotation on MTV.

Experimentation and Top Five Success

Up next was the boundary pushing but less commercially successful effort Electric Circus. Then came 2005’s well-received Be, which reached the second spot on the Billboard 200 charts. The disc produced the single “Go!” featuring John Mayer and Kanye West.

More Albums

2007’s Finding Forever topped the Billboard 200 chart and sold one hundred and fifty five thousand copies in its first week. The next year, the gold-certified album also won a Grammy for a track featuring Kanye West. Also in 2008, Common dropped the album Universal Mind Control to mixed reviews.


During the last years of the decade, Common began appearing on the big screen. In 2007, he was seen in the crime movies “Smokin’ Aces” and “American Gangster.” The next year, he had roles in the action films “Street Kings” and “Wanted.” Before returning to music, Common also acted in the films “Terminator Salvation,” “Date Night” and “Just Wright.”

Beef with Drake

2011 saw the release of the No I.D.-produced The Dreamer/The Believer. Besides the single “Ghetto Dreams,” the top twenty record contained the track “Sweet,” which saw Common taking shots at rapper Drake. As a result, the two traded barbs in song form for a few months until Common ended the beef at the 2012 Grammy Awards.

Other Pursuits

In addition to music and acting, Common dabbled in modeling and fashion, and even published a memoir. He has been a spokesperson for several brands, supported various social causes, and he established the Common Ground Foundation for disadvantaged children.

White House Poetry Reading
Despite his philanthropy, Common has been involved in scandal: in 2011, a media storm erupted when he was invited to the White House for a poetry reading by First Lady Michelle Obama due to his sometimes controversial lyrics.

Musical Career

With his smooth flow and poetic lyrics, Common paints vivid imagery with his words. In a genre where one-hit wonders and superficial lyrics reign supreme, he is a breath of fresh air. So when you look at Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.’s love and respect for hip hop, you realize there is really nothing Common about him.

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