Common’s rap career stretches back over two decades, emerging during the early-’90s underground scene and rapping under the moniker Common Sense. Over 22 years after his under-the-radar debut (Can I Borrow A Dollar?) the Chicago native has 10 albums and two Grammys under his belt—not to mention starring roles in film and television, publishing a memoir, launching a record label imprint, and founding a charity. Through it all—from his membership in the Soulquarians collective, to his relationship with Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music crew in the mid-’00s, to his recent contract with longtime friend and collaborator No I.D.’s ARTium Recordings—Common has never been content with just being a musician. He has used his music for political activism at every opportunity, often focusing on Afrocentric, socially conscious themes, from lyrical history lessons in the civil rights and black-nationalist movements to addressing social issues experienced by the black community. At times, his politics have landed him in the hot seat.
To commemorate his role in Selma and his collaboration with John Legend on “Glory,”—in the movie he plays James Bevel, a leader of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights marches that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act that same year, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting—we’ve compiled 10 of Common’s best political moments, in his music and beyond.