Common and Lilliana Vasquez (Photo: Courtesy of Vision Expo)
Multi-talented rapper Common effectively kicked off Vision Expo East’s new EYE2EYE series featuring informative and insightful speakers at the annual eyewear/eyecare industry trade show’s opening day Friday at New York’s Javits Center.
Staged at the show’s new Bridge destination point linking the Galleria and Underground pavilions with the Eyewear + Accessories area, Common’s presentation was in conversation with multi-media personality Lilliana Vazquez, and centered on his style sense as well as his art. After all, the Oscar, Emmy and Grammy award-winner has also successfully modeled and launched a clothing line.
“I think of my style as progressive, because it’s constantly evolving,” Common stated. “I see pictures of myself from a year ago and I’m like, ‘What am I wearing?’ Or I go back to the ‘70s and go, ‘Who the hell was I?’”
Now, however, “I appreciate each moment of my fashion evolution, because it is progressive and very organic--what I’m feeling at the time: whatever my inspiration is at that moment. That’s what my fashion represents.”
If there’s an “overall theme” to Common’s style, it’s “just being myself and being progressive with it,” he continued.
“I used to rock different types of baseball hats and tried to wear something unique, but I got exposed to cool fashion stuff and different things. So my style is me--and it’s progressive.”
Asked by Vazquez what “Off-duty Common” looks like, he referred to the many Internet photos of himself, garbed in “great t-shirts” and basketball shorts--“house clothes” that he wears “because I’m comfortable: I wear them to the gym and at home.”
On duty, Common relies on assistants whose style he trusts when suiting up for dinner, “but I’ve got my own voice,” he said, in reference to his personal sense of style. At the Bridge event, this was manifest in a black shirt with thin white vertical stripes, black pants and stylish sneakers.
Asked about fashion role models, Common credited people with “timeless styles,” and singled out Malcolm X, noting, too, that much of his wardrobe comes to him through stylists. The Chicago native further saluted New York, “my favorite city on the planet,” and one of his favorite places to see different styles and be inspired by them.
Of course Common was asked about his eyewear selections.
“I’ve been through phases where my eyewear was really free and different,” he said, nodding to preceding musician eyewear fashion plates like Parliament Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone, who most certainly were really free and different in that regard. He also lauded the “spirit and freedom” of Jimi Hendrix.
Now, however, eyewear is “something that defines where I am at the time—and what I want for the day…and what I feel.”
Common also spoke about his music, and in particular, its storytelling aspect—which he agreed was “a personal brand” tying in with exuding a sense of authenticity.
“I learned early on to be as authentic as I can as a creative person,” he said. “Authenticity has to be there—from the purest place possible.”
He said he had “no problem creating authentic stories--even if using my imagination.” The stories might not be wholly true, he conceded, but by asking his friends how they felt and got through life, and taking “energy from people who lived those situations,” they still have authenticity.
“Anything we create art from, we’ve got to find our truth and put it out there,” he said, noting that his best songs derive from “people I’m around and sharing experiences with,” and finding experiences that “give you the most growth as an artist.”
Common also recounted the story of his name. Born Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn, he recalled searching for a “rap name” in college and settling on Common Sense, since his mother always reminded him to use common sense—and because of the high-potency marijuana form sensimilla, which he related to it. He shortened it to Common after learning that a California group had the rights to the name.
“It was so frustrating I started losing my hair. That’s why I’m bald!” he said. “But I’m grateful because I relate to everyday people and common folk, and I’m a common person and there are things we have in common.”
And if he were not a major entertainment star, Common claimed he would be either a teacher or a therapist.
“I like to learn, and being a teacher you learn to be able to feed people knowledge and information,” he explained. “And if I weren’t a teacher, I’d be a therapist: I like talking to people, and helping them through their problems helps heal me, too, in different ways.”
Listening, concluded Common, is “one of the best ways to show love.” Meanwhile, he informed the jammed Bridge that his memoir Let Love Have the Last Word will be published May 7, to be accompanied by an album this summer.