Common Q&A: ’13th’ composer
During our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above), Common describes the documentary “13th” as “such an eye-opener for so many people in America.” Directed by Ava DuVernay, this Netflix release takes an in-depth look at what mass incarceration in America reveals about the nation’s history of racial inequality. The Oscar and Grammy award-winning rapper penned the original song “Letter to the Free” for the film, for which now has his first Emmy nomination.
Before he became aware of DuVernay’s film, Common explains he was drawn to the subject matter after having read Michelle Alexander‘s book “The New Jim Crow,” which “dealt with slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, all as forms of keeping people to a certain level, all as forms of marginalizing people of color.” He gained even more insight after seeing the movie, which further inspired him. “This was for me something that I was on the path of and passionate about,” he adds, “being a part of the change.”
Common won an Oscar alongside John Legend for their original song “Glory” from DuVernay’s Martin Luther King biopic “Selma” (2014). He also has three Grammys on his shelf (Best R&B Song for “Love of My Life (an Ode to Hip Hop)” with Erykah Badu in 2003; Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “Southside” with Kanye West in 2008; and Best Song Written for Visual Media for “Glory” with Legend in 2016). Should he win the Emmy, he’ll just need a Tony to join the elite EGOT group.
He competes in Best Music and Lyrics against Adam Schlesinger, Rachel Bloom, and Jack Dolgen for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (“We Tapped That Ass”); Christopher Willis, Darrick Bachman, and Paul Rudish for “Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” (“Jing-A-Ling-A-Ling”); Jonathan Kimmel and Gary Greenberg for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (“The Ballad of Claus Jorstad (Devil Stool)”); Eli Brueggemann, Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, Kenan Thompson, and Will Stephen for “Saturday Night Live” (“Last Christmas”); and Jeff Richmond, Tina Fey, and Sam Means for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (“Hell No”).
In addition to Common’s bid, “13th” competes for Best Documentary Special, as well as for writing and directing for DuVernay, cinematography, and editing. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, where it lost to “O.J.: Made in America.”