Hip-hop artist Common spoke in Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday night, encouraging students to find their own paths and always strive for greatness. The event was sponsored by Stanford Speakers Bureau and cosponsored by Black Student Union.
“Find your path, believe in your path and live it,” Common told students after opening the event with a freestyle rap about the Farm.
“It’s Common sense y’all/you know I understand words/I came to rock it here right at Stanford,” he began.
In a talk that focused on inspirational advice, Common recalled many formative experiences, including his time spent as a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls while growing up on the city’s South Side. As a ball boy, he met basketball greats such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
He said his sixth grade teacher had a significant influence on him and taught him a great deal about literature and writing. As a boy, the story of Emmett Till, an African American boy from Chicago who was murdered while visiting the South in 1955, had a profound impact on him.
“I knew that to achieve greatness in whatever I wanted to do, I had to work hard,” he said.
Common said he took to basketball as a young boy and wrote his first rap with his cousins.
“When I wrote this rap,” he said, “I found something … I found my voice. When you find your voice, you know what your voice is, and that’s your path.”
“That voice allowed me to be able to speak to you all,” he continued. “And that voice is something that I cherish.”
Common said when he dropped out of college after a year and a half, his mother urged him to go back.
“When I left, she said, ‘You need to hurry up and get back in school,’” he recalled. “A couple years later she told me, ‘You need to hurry up and write a new rap.’”
Common said he didn’t begin to believe in himself until his sixth album, “Be,” came out.
“I think I was scared of my greatness,” he said. “Why would you want to be small when you are created to be great?”
At a reception before the event, Common mentioned that he grew up listening to KRS-One and NWA, and that Kanye West, Radiohead, Lil Wayne and Bilal were among his influences.
Audience members appreciated Common’s demeanor and his message.
“He’s one of the true hip-hop artists,” said Sarah Adams ’09 before the event. “Common is about socially conscious music, which is something you really don’t see anymore.”
“I thought he was pretty inspirational,” said attendee Joseph Fezadeh. “He dispelled a lot of stereotypes one might have about a hip-hop artist.”
“He was on our level,” added Abel Teklai ’12.
“I was happy to see that there was a full house,” said H. Samy Alim, an education professor who teaches a course on hip-hop. “He’s been a hip-hop legend for more than a decade.”
Common is known for his work as a rapper, actor and activist.