Cincinnati Music Festival Celebrates the Return of Common to Cincinnati

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos by Madison Schmidt

Common may be known internationally these days as a successful rapper, actor and film producer, but when he was younger, he was just another kid enjoying vacation time with his cousins and friends in Bond Hill. This past weekend, Common returnedto Cincinnati, this time as a headliner on the main stage of the Cincinnati Music Festival, performing with The Roots. While his music is heard around the world, he says a lot of his artistic and musical influence came from those summers in Cincinnati. 

“I remember going to the Bond Hill swimming pool, skating at the Cincinnati Gardens with my cousin and all his friends from the neighborhood,” Common said in an interview just before his Saturday night performance. “They had a group called the ‘Bond Hill Crew’ which was the Run DMC of Cincinnati.” 

It was during those visits with his aunt that the Chicago-born Common learned to rap, and where his musical career began. He says coming back to the city to perform at the Cincinnati Music Festival brings his career full circle. “It’s not only a pleasure, but it’s an honor to come back to Cincinnati,” he said, “a place that I feel has helped me on my journey and means so much to me because of the family that I have here. 

“To be a part of this festival and be on it with The Roots and Bootsy (Collins) and Jill (Scott), it is an honor. I’ve got family coming from Chicago and I know some of my Cincinnati squad will be out there, too.” 

With The Roots, Common was looking forward to a new experience. “I like giving the fans songs that I know they like, want to rock to, want to be festive and have a good time, so I’m never shy about going into the catalogue and digging into the best of music I’ve made,” he said. “With the incredible musicianship with The Roots, it’s a really unique show because if you get The Roots, you just get The Roots. If you get me, you just get me. But this time we’ve got a good blend going.” 

This isn’t Common’s only collaboration, as he’s also a member of August Greene, with producers Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins.Together, they already have won an Emmy with their theme song, "Letter To The Free," for Ava DuVernay's Netflix documentary 13th. “We released an album in May and we’re going to do some touring,” he said. “We’re releasing new songs in August. I’m going to work on a Common album myself, and I’m still working on music for films because I love doing that also.”

Common also is involved in a number of causes, including his Common Ground Foundation in Chicago that mentors youth in his home town. “Also, with Imagine Justice (his non-profit dedicated to criminal justice reform) next week we’re going to a prison in California just to see where we can continue to resolve this mass incarceration epidemic.

“The final thing on the philanthropic side is that I’m becoming more educated on this immigration situation and family separation, and seeing where we can make sure we resolve some of this—to bring families back together.”