Rapper Common reveals how Black queens of Brooklyn and faith influenced his wellness journey

The generation that supported hip-hop culture’s journey from the inner-city underground into a global mainstream phenomenon is solidly in its middle age these days. It’s endured the tragic premature passing of many rappers such as Biz Markie, Trugoy, Black Rob and more, who were the focus of a New York Times Magazine article last summer. Conversely, Men’s Health recently celebrated hip-hop artists who are thriving – not just surviving –  with a gatefold cover of physically fit rappers including Ludacris, Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent, Method Man, Busta Rhymes and Chicago’s native son, Common. As hip-hop ages, those in our 40s and 50s are centering wellness as a No. 1 life priority, which is the primary focus of Common’s latest book, “And Then We Rise: A Guide to Loving and Taking Care of Self.”

A practical guide to self-care through food, body, mind and soul, Common’s third book comes right on time for folks who want to level themselves up because they’re already slacking on 2024 resolutions. The week of its release, Common stood onstage at Newark Symphony Hall signing autographs for a long line of dedicated fans at the venue’s semi-regular Living Out Loud literary series. A book tour kickoff, the event also welcomed to the mix Black sororities and fraternities – many of whom sported Greek-letter sweaters and varsity jackets – while Grammy-winning hits like “Southside” and “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)” blared through the hall.

Just days after confirming a romantic relationship with actress Jennifer Hudson on her syndicated talk show, Common held court with moderator Curt Menefee before a sold-out New Jersey crowd to dive into the importance of wellness in Black communities and his personal path to self-care. Backstage prior to the event, the rapper, actor and bestselling author sat down with theGrio to discuss spirituality, yoga and his holistic approach to wellness.

Common book release,
Common signs copies of his newest book, “And Then We Rise: A Guide to Loving and Taking Care of Self,” on Jan. 25, 2024, at Newark Symphony Hall in New Jersey. In the book, Common discusses how rap affected his thoughts about nutrition as a teenager. (Photo courtesy of Don Sherrill)

You first moved to Brooklyn in the late ’90s, when “Heal Thyself for Health and Longevity” by holistic health pioneer Queen Afua was making an impact on the conscious community there. How did this book influence your own wellness journey?

When I first moved to Brooklyn, it was populated with really conscious people that were aware, and artists. A group of those artists included Erykah Badu, [designer] Ashaka Givens and [jeweler] Lorraine West. All these women were powerful and talented. Queen Afua was like a leader and an inspiration for Erykah – just someone who helped shed light; they shared a lot of information. That group of women really picked up a lot of information from “Heal Thyself.” I really just learned from them. That’s how I got introduced to Queen Afua, was able to meet her, and be around her. 

It was really enlightening for me because they were really adamant and disciplined about loving thyself. It showed in their actions. It showed in their skin. It showed in the way that they talked to each other and talked to me, and it became something that was a big catalyst on me understanding the power that I had.

By the time I came to New York, I was probably just eating fish. Within a few weeks, I became vegetarian because it was just a lot of access [to vegetarian food]. That was 1998. There was a juice bar up on Fulton Street. Brooklyn Moon [Cafe] was there. It was a place where Black women and men were elevated. And there was a new consciousness that was being shared that I hadn’t been introduced to, but I was seeking.

Alicia Keys, Diddy and Angie Martinez have run the New York City marathon. Is that a goal of yours?

I got so much respect for people who run long distances. That’s a high level of discipline and commitment. At one point, I was able to run some longer miles. But I never committed myself to saying I wanna do a marathon. My cardio is more like playing basketball, moving around. I always say it’s important to find things that work for you and things that you like, knowing that you’ll be able to commit to it even when you get tired of it. When I saw Alicia Keys did the marathon, I was like, “Man, you got a whole ’nother mindset.” I got a mindset that I feel like I could do anything. But I didn’t have the passion for running at that moment. 

Does a yoga practice fit in your wellness routine?

Common, Common book,
(Left to right) Sports commentator Curt Menefee and Common discuss the rapper’s newest book, “And Then We Rise: A Guide to Loving and Taking Care of Self,” at the Jan. 25, 2024, “Living Out Loud: A Night with Common” event at Newark Symphony Hall in New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Don Sherrill)

Yoga is something I really enjoy, to be honest. I started going to yoga because a friend of mine from acting class was like, “Yo, you need to go.” I was going through so much. She was like, “Go to yoga with me.” I went, and man, I was releasing a lot. I was learning things about myself in yoga class, and I really appreciated it. I’m not afraid to try things, so it’s something that I suggest for somebody who wants to enrich their life and find out something that might be helpful to them, centering for them, and still has a physical component. I know yoga is about a whole other level. But I really enjoyed going to yoga and still wanna do it. And I wanna support a lot of the Black yogis around the country.

You mention in the book how rap verses affected your ideas about nutrition as a teenager. Did rappers from the Five-Percent Nation impact your spirituality in that same time period?

Growing up in Chicago, going to a church that was non-denominational, our pastor is a revolutionary. His name is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the church I attended was Trinity United Church [of Christ]. When you walk inside, it says “unapologetically Black, unashamedly Christian.” So I didn’t have a problem with seeking out Christianity in a Bible. The thing I loved about church and seeking spirituality is that we were welcoming. Like, Farrakhan spoke at our church before. 

Hearing Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers and Rakim talk about the Five-Percent Nation, refer to themselves as gods and earths, that made me seek more. My father named me Rashid. I had to at some point seek and find what I could in the Quran too. Because my father did that for a reason. I felt like it was a lot for me to learn from that. And what I learned from the gods, I still apply to this day. It’s acknowledging the god that exists in all of us. I think that’s something that we needed. And I think it was pivotal into my becoming a stronger and greater human being.

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What are your Broadway aspirations? You’ve already got an Emmy, Grammys and an Oscar. You’re one Tony away from an EGOT.

I acted on Broadway a year ago. I was in a play called “Between Riverside and Crazy” that was written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, who has written “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” and “Motherf—-r with the Hat.” He’s an incredible playwright from New York. And I acted with one of the best casts I could ever act with. It was an amazing experience, so I did intend to do even more Broadway. But in the meantime, I’m a producer on “The Wiz” that’s coming to Broadway in the spring, and we’re super enthused about that. That’s gon’ be amazing. It’s debuting in April.

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Miles Marshall Lewis (@MMLunlimited) is an author and Harlem-based cultural critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Rolling Stone and many other outlets. Lewis is currently finishing a cultural biography of comedian Dave Chappelle, his follow-up to Promise That You Will Sing About Me: The Power and Poetry of Kendrick Lamar.

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