Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., better known as Common, is one of the most legendary artists of our time. A seasoned rapper, actor, author, and activist, he is the first hip hop artist to have won a Grammy, Academy Award, and Emmy Award. He's also written a number of books, including children's books and memoirs, and his latest book, And Then We Rise, out January 23, delves into the artist's journey toward finding physical and spiritual fulfillment.
"And Then We Rise is about access," he says. "It's me telling my story in a way so people recognize I wasn't born like this. I learned the ways of South Side and all those types of things that made me have to return to my peaceful nature and God-like nature. It's really about expressing to people, "Man, you can do this. This is something for you that you can do that will truly change your life and your way of being and your way of thinking."
The title of the book itself is an allusion to Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise," and is, for Common, a way of showing up for Black and Brown communities, and particularly for those who "just might not be aware of what tools we have accessible to us to get to happiness."
'And Then We Rise' by Common
"When you've been exposed to these things, you've got to come back and give people freedom with the information; with the freedom to actually free themselves. This book is more like, 'Yo, find out the things that will work for you so that you can get to your place of happiness and joy and health and wellness and spirit,'" he tells me over Zoom. "We human beings, we on the planet, we're going to encounter difficulties. But what tools do I have when I'm pissed off in this situation? What do I have that can help me to not cross the line and end up things going worse?"
Ahead, Common delves into his immaculate wellness routine. He also touches on many of the themes in his book, including nutrition, the mind-body connection, and how he works to empower others by empowering himself.
I haven't tried Pilates, and somebody told me to try that.
[holds up a stick of Palo Santo] I'm lighting Palo Santo.
I actually don't like quinoa, and quinoa is something that people expect me to like because I'm vegan. They're like, "Yo, we got this quinoa," and I don't like that. I know it's a wellness thing that people are really into dietary-wise, but I'm like, "I really don't like that."
I get up in the morning, I do my reading—I read scriptures and I do my prayers—and then I have a quick time to meditate and I go exercise. I'm going to get up at whatever time and do that. I need that for me. It also prepares me to go out and be sure, when I'm dealing with negative energy or have mishaps in throughout the day, that I don't feel like I'm off my square. If I do get off my square, I've got the tools to get right back on it.
One of my favorite times of the day is after I've done my prayer and reading and I've worked out and I'm about to start the day. That's when I'm sitting there taking my vitamins and supplements and the day is about to start. That's a great feeling for me.
If you talk to some people in the hood, you'll be like, "Man, what's going on? How you doing?" And some people are just like, "Same shit every day," or "Same shit, new day," or, "Man, I'm breathing or whatever. I woke up." I mean, waking up is a positive thing. Sometimes people talk about negative things, and that ain't good for the mental and spiritual diet. You've got to shut those things down and also get into practice of saying things that are better for you, for your mind, and for your body. Even if it is, "Yo, I woke up," that you could say, "I woke up," or you could be like, "Man, I woke up today!" That's a good thing. That's positive. That's something to be thankful for. You start with that thanks.
Our parents, because of the situations that they were dealt, a lot of their mentality was survival. But we have opportunity to really thrive and really be fruitful and be happy and apply our traditions to new things that we've learned, whether it's therapy or it's eating a cleaner diet. People think I'm like, "Yo, you got to be a vegan." But no, it's just paying attention to what you're putting in your body, being aware, and making sure you are getting some simple things that just help you have a happier life and have better energy in life. If you find a balance, it's all good.
The biggest thing is our meats, and the way they do our meats now in America, especially. I have people who work on my team who are from Europe, and when they come here they see our chickens and they're like, "Wait, what?" They won't even eat the chicken because they're like, "No way, this is not natural." Like the fact that I can go to Italy and see people that eat pasta all the time and they're not as overweight as we are here in America just shows that, man, a lot of stuff that's going in our foods is not of the best quality. What we eat affects our emotional state and our health.
My mother used to say, "Quit worrying and quit stressing. You're going to cause yourself to get sick." 'Cause I didn't realize how much mental health affects the physical body and vice versa. I didn't realize, and the component my mother didn't know was that me eating cleaner actually took stress off of me. I wasn't weighed down as much. I felt—and I still feel—clearer in my thoughts.
The clarity, the lightness, the energy, even just being able to rap clear was important to me, and I saw the positive effects. It was not even any research that I did besides my own experiment within myself.
Dr. Tracy is a person that I've learned to trust so much in philosophy and healing. She's worked with my mother and helped her in dealing with some issues physically. She's helped me through so much, and she ties the physical with the spiritual and the mental. I learned more and more about the connection between all these things that I'm talking about in the book—like the spirituality, physical health, mental health, and diet—from her.
Then my therapist is somebody I go to. I mean, it is not "advice," but it's definitely understanding. One of the things I liked to acknowledge within myself was the patterns that I would repeat in my life and fears I had that just came from childhood, from my own traumas, and from things that didn't even seem like they might be trauma, but they were, or just feelings that I had that I never knew existed until I went to therapy. In dealing with that, I was able to decipher what's old baggage and what's actually present in my life.
No, no. My biggest app is the way I feel.
A lot of times people would call me during the pandemic and be dealing stress, asking me about health things. They were dealing with a lot. I was like, "Man, I have peace right now. I know there's a lot going on in the world, and I'm compassionate towards what's going on in the world, but I also have peace." "What is this peace?" "Well, this is my spiritual thing for sure. This is me still getting my workouts in at my house, and so on. This is me."
At certain times, it was talking to my therapist during the pandemic on the phone, or it was me drinking my water and having my green juices. All this was contributing to a certain health and peace. Even during that time, I was able to find some peace, and I want us to be able to find that peace. Also, this is a way to combat all the division and the negative energy being spewed out. It's like, man, part of my revolution is being like, "Yo, I'm going to be happy. I'm going to get myself happy in my community and get other people happy, and all that stuff you're spewing ain't going to take me down. It ain't going get me all. I don't get into conversations when people come to me talking, "Oh man, you see what this dude did? And they're doing that." I'm like, "Man, okay, well, what are we doing?"
I'm feeling really inspired and excited about the book. I was having a conversation with somebody close on my team and I was saying, "Man, I really feel like this book is one of my offerings to our communities and to people as a way to express love and information and caring, and it's a way for me to express revolution in one of the ways that I believe real change happens."
Keep it moving with positive thoughts. Man, I always talk about it and I have to work on it myself. This is all practice. I'm working, and it becomes me more and more. This is who I am now. I tell my daughter, "Yo, say some good things before you go in there and take that test. You studied, you're prepared." For me, this is my preparation in life to be able to go out and enjoy things.
Honestly, sometimes it's just being alone with my music and being creative,. That morning time that I have to myself really gives me happiness. Especially being an artist and being out in the public—you've got to give, you're going to give. I love that I get to love and give to myself, and the most important connection I have is the connection with the most high, with the Creator of the heavens and earth and God. For me to go first to God, it's like it's a reminder of who I am and it gives me a peace and a joy that I love.
I still love just being out with loved ones too. Whether it's my friends who I grew up with and that's just going to dinner, or a partner that I'm in a relationship with. If I'm in one, just spending time with that person is great. I enjoy those things too, for sure.
One of my best friends—52 years old—he just went and he got a manicure and pedicure. He said, "Man, why ain't you telling me man? This is good!" I said, "Listen, I've been telling you, self care." I mean, we hear this now more than ever. It's underrated, but it's like, man, I got to a point where I understood there was no activism without self-activism.
The idea that [therapy] is something that we don't do. That it's something for people that are weak and it's not something that we do within our community. It was said, and it wasn't said in this exact was, but it was like, "You're too strong to be going to therapy. You Black, you don't need that. White people are doing that because they don't have the strength." That's kind of what the mentality was—that we're tough, we've been through difficult things, we survived. And it was like, nah. I mean, we need this too. We're human beings, and it is a human quality and a human experience for someone to experience trauma and to actually work on it and heal from it. It's got something that can work for somebody where it's somebody that's Indian, somebody that's Latino, somebody that's Black, somebody that's white, somebody that's Native American, somebody that's Asian— it has no color agenda to it.
If I could tell my teenage self something, it would be that it's okay to go outside of the box that you've been surrounded by in your environment, and to find ways to really love yourself. Meaning, part of just the way I ate was just because of the way I grew up, and doing anything different sometimes would get you ridiculed. Gratefully, I was able to be free enough within myself to, at a certain point, just be like, "Look, this is what I'm doing. I'm going to the Thai food restaurant because I like them; I'm going to try that. Yeah, y'all might be like, 'Man, that's some crazy different stuff,' but I'm going to try." Or I'd be like, "No, I'm removing beef and pork from my diet because that's just what I'm choosing to do. Yeah, mom, you might want me to eat that at Thanksgiving, but, no, that's not my life choice." I would've told my young self to be courageous enough to go outside the box, and that would incur spiritual wellness and mental health wellness.
And the way I would've pitched it to my young self is like, "You're going to be more supreme than you ever thought you could be if you do these things." That would've affected me because I wanted to achieve; I wanted to live the most purposeful and fulfilled life that I could. If I would've really connected the fact that these mental health things would be helpful and that the diet would be helpful, I would've been applying that. I would've.