Today in Hip-Hop: Common Invited by President Obama to Read Poetry at the White House
On this day, May 11, in hip-hop history...
2011: Common is invited to read poetry at the White House.
To those familiar, like President Barack Obama, with Common's love-spreading ethos and positive vibes, the rapper was a logical choice to perform at "An Evening of Poetry at the White House" as part of first lady Michelle Obama's Musical Series, a string of events meant to promote poetry and arts education. Common took the stage in front of an audience that included high-schoolers, President Obama and the first lady.
“I woke up with the sunshine, a sunshine I had never seen,” spit Common over spare piano keys. “There was light at the end of it, reminding me to forever dream/I was dreaming I walked into the White House with love on my sleeve/And love for each and every one of you, reminding you to believe.”
As one of the first rappers ever invited to the White House to actually perform, he also recited lyrics from his song "The Believer": “Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers/In front of buildings, their eyes look older/It’s hard to see blessings in a violent culture.”
To those unfamiliar though, he, as a rapper, represented controversy, violence and all of the negative connotations associated there within, and in response to Common's presence at the White House, many in the media expressed outrage.
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity devoted a segment of his show to the issue, dubbing Com a “controversial rapper and poet” with a “running list of controversial comments” and claiming that the Obama administration “will never learn its lesson.”
In a press conference, Press Secretary Jay Carney said that while President Barack Obama opposes and “has spoken very forcefully out against violent and misogynist lyrics,” he supports the Grammy-winning artist’s many positive contributions to hip-hop and poetry at large. Carney also noted that it’s “ironic” to select out hateful lyrics from a rapper who is widely considered positive and socially aware.
“While the President doesn’t support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here… we do think that some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for, more broadly, in order to stoke a controversy,” Carney said. “Within the genre of hip-hop and rap, [Common] is what’s known as a conscience rapper—or a conscious rapper, rather. And I would quote a report just six months ago from Fox News where he was described as a rap legend and quote, ‘Your music is very positive and you’re known as the conscious rapper. How important is that to you, and how important do you think that is to our kids?’”
In the time since the hubbub over Common's appearance several rappers have been invited to the White House including, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Wale and more. If the outrage over Common's invitation represented anything, it was the right wing's eagerness to attack Obama on the smallest of details, including ones they had no prior context or understanding for. Read an original story from the 2011 incident courtesy of The Washington Post.