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In His Vulnerable New Memoir, Common Examines Cycles of Violence and Trauma

The Chicago MC's new book chronicles his journey to gain a deeper love for both himself and other people

By Michell C. Clark

For the greater part of his decades-long career, Common has prioritized love. The South Side Chicago native debuted with his album, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, in 1992, and has since built a discography that speaks to how he seeks to apply love for himself, his romantic partners, his culture, and the world.

He has used an extended romantic metaphor to deliver poignant commentary on the state of hip-hop (“I Used To Love H.E.R.,”1994), released a heartfelt love letter to his then-girlfriend, Erykah Badu (“The Light,” 2000), and rapped about what self-love means to him, and how he seeks to love his daughter (“Be,” 2005). “Glory,” his 2015 Grammy Award-winning collaboration with John Legend from the Selma soundtrack, spoke to the collective love required to win the fight against civil injustice.

It should come as no surprise that Common’s new memoir, Let Love Have The Last Word, which debuted on May 7 via Atria Books, offers a window into how he strives to gain a deeper understanding of love for both himself and other people. Fittingly, the book focuses on the meaning and application of love through the lens of a student, without positioning the artist and author’s perspective as authoritative or exceptional. In one of the book’s first passages, he introduces himself by his government name: “My name is Rashid, and I do not necessarily know more about love than you do.”

“I want the book to touch and inspire people, and to start conversations around topics that we normally don’t discuss,” Common told MTV News at a recent roundtable discussion. Those topics include his experience being molested as a child, navigating abandonment issues stemming from his father’s absence, and his instinct to be defensive when his daughter questioned his love for her. It’s through such candor that Common is able to use his life as a vehicle for exploring the core tenets of love.

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“Letting love have the last word is about asking how we can apply love to overcome the times that we’re in, and how we can heal from wounds we’ve sustained in the past,” he explains. For him, that includes using self-reflection as a tool to strengthen bonds with other people as well. “After I’ve worked on self-love, how do I go about loving others? How do I build a better relationship with my daughter? How can I be a better friend, a better son, and a better listener?”

“When I say, ‘Let love have the last word,’ I’m saying that we need to operate with love at the forefront of our minds, and in the back of our minds,” he adds. “I think we can and should create happiness for each other because times have been heavy for a lot of us as of late.”

When the book debuted, readers and the media alike instantly latched onto one specific story in its narrative, in which Common discloses his trauma of being molested while on a family vacation as a young boy. He notes that he had pushed the memories of what occurred so deep into the recesses of his mind that he didn’t remember anything until decades later, when he was talking through the script for The Tale, which unpacks a story of sexual violence. He details the shame and shock that he felt after the incident took place, but wrote about the story in the context of forgiveness: “I want to be a person who helps break cycles of violence and trauma. I forgive [the boy who molested me].”

Common told MTV News that he shared his molestation story publicly in order to help people like him who carry the weight and shame of similar experiences. (Black children are three times more likely to be victims of reported child abuse or neglect than their white counterparts.) “As a Black man, I felt like I need to tell the story for other people — specifically for men who've experienced some form of molestation and are afraid to talk about it,” he says. “Our culture doesn’t give us the opportunity to talk about these kind of things, or to be vulnerable.”

While the process of sharing such traumatic moments with others can be intimidating and triggering, Common found that his willingness to share has subsequently helped others with similar experiences to open up about their stories as well. Initial public reactions to Let Love Have The Last Word suggest that Common’s focus on authentic storytelling resonates with many people for a variety of reasons.

Actor Terry Crews, who shared the story of his own sexual assault in 2017, applauded Common’s candor on Twitter: “Incredible vulnerability, even more incredible strength,” he wrote. An attendee at Common’s D.C. book reading expressed gratitude for Common’s willingness to create more opportunities for Black men to have conversations about love and mental health.

Common noted that since the book’s release, close friends have confided in him about being molested in the past. He admitted to having no idea that other people in his life would be able to relate to what he went through.

Throughout the book, Common uses his vulnerabilities to facilitate introspection, and subsequently shares his actionable thoughts with readers in a relatable way. In one notable anecdote, he speaks about learning from those around him, including his 21-year-old daughter, Omoye, who once admitted to him that she wasn’t sure whether or not he cared about her. Upon hearing this from her, Common acknowledges that his first instinct was to be defensive, but knows now that it was more important to understand the way she felt than to refute her perspective.

“She led the way by acknowledging that we had to get some peace for ourselves — because it would have been even more painful to have spoken about it publicly before we found our peace,” he says now. His openness about their situation isn’t exploitative; instead, it heals. Common noted that since the book release, he’s had conversations with a number of mothers and fathers who appreciated his honesty. And writing about his interactions with Omoye has strengthened their relationship: “She feels like she’s been heard,” he added.

Common also explores his previous romantic relationships in Let Love Have The Last Word, and what he’s learned about himself from them, which includes what he calls “intimacy avoidance” — the instinct to run away from a partnership when he felt the other person needed more from him than he was comfortable giving at the time.

“I had to ask myself how I could not repeat that same pattern,” he admits now. “I ended up finding myself in a better place through therapy and getting closer to God on my own. I’m learning myself more. I feel that I’m able to love in a healthier way. I communicate better in love, and I enjoy it more. I’m doing my best to stay true to who I am.”

While a significant part of Let Love Have The Last Word is dedicated to Common’s inner monologue, he credits his time in therapy for equipping him to gain a deeper understanding of how he can apply love to every facet of his life. “Sometimes you need to talk with somebody who doesn’t have any stake in the situation. When they’re not personally attached they can give you real advice without a motive,” he told MTV News. Therapy has been liberating force in his life, equipping him to let go of wounds he had been subconsciously carrying for decades. In turn, it helped him become a more whole person in his relationships — both romantic and platonic.

As a man of faith, Common believes that his relationship with God and his commitment to therapy go hand in hand. “I believe that God works through good therapists, and I’ve talked about God with therapists during sessions,” he says. “I feel like therapy is God at work. I feel like Jesus was a therapist. He was teaching people, and giving them wisdom that they needed.”

The sincerity and truthfulness that courses through Let Love Have the Last Word wasn’t won overnight, though; Common grew more comfortable with embracing public vulnerability as he continued to write the memoir. That commitment required a level of honesty that he had not previously explored through his music or writing, and though he knew that this degree of vulnerability would come with risks, he decided that the possibility of helping people was worth it.

Common seems to be adjusting just fine to the shock of diving into this new level of openness. In fact, he finds the transition to be emancipatory. “I worked on myself to the point that I’m okay with being this vulnerable,” he added. “There’s freedom in that. There’s freedom in knowing exactly who you are.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, head to halfofus.com for ways to get help.