We've never done a Tiny Desk Concert that wasn't behind my desk at NPR. But when the White House called and said they were putting on an event called South by South Lawn, a day-long festival filled with innovators and creators from the worlds of technology and art, including music, we jumped at the chance to get involved. We chose Common as the performer and the White House library as the space.
This Tiny Desk Concert was a convergence of art and soul, mixing politics with heart. Common's choice of songs dealt with incarceration as the new slavery, imagined a time where women rule the world and honored the man he looked up to all his life, his father. For this occasion Common put together a special six-piece band of close friends that includes the great Robert Glasper, with his eloquent and delicate touch, on keyboards and Derrick Hodge, whose music spans from hip-hop to folk and has made a big imprint on the world of jazz, on bass. Common also asked his longtime friend and collaborator Bilal to sing on two songs. The performance includes three brand new songs, along with one classic, "I Used To Love H.E.R."
Common was born on Chicago's South Side and grew up in President Obama's city. His rap career began in the early 1990s, back when he was known as Common Sense, and he's always taken on big ideas without easy answers in his songs, from abortion to social justice to the legacy of hip-hop itself. 25 years later, morality and responsibility continue to play significant roles in his songs. In 2015, he won an Academy Award alongside the singer John Legend for their song "Glory" from the movie Selma.
Common told us that he'd been invited to the White House many times before, including by Michelle Obama for a poetry reading back in 2011, but he was thrilled by the prospect of performing his music during Barack Obama's final months as president. One look at this Tiny Desk Concert and you'll see that thrill on his face and hear it throughout this magnificent performance on this very special day.
Common will release his 11th studio album, Black America Again, in November.