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Common and legendary scribe Nelson George were present at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York for a screening of an extended version of the rapper and actor’s “Letter To The Free” video. After the screening, the pair sat down for a discussion on social justice, Hip-Hop and more.

Com Sense and George were the focus of the Tribeca Talk: Storytellers event on Sunday night (April 23). The sold-out event also featured a concert from Common and the debut of a new track, “Black Kennedy” to go along with director Bradford Young’s extended video showing.

The discussion ranged from Com’s foray into acting, activism via Hip-Hop music, and mentioning the young lions of today like Kendrick Lamar and fellow Chicago native Chance The Rapper.

From the conversation:

Question: Do you believe that when artists, rappers, musicians face some sort of social injustice flashpoint like a Donald Trump or the LA riots to react to, that it drives up the creativity and the timelessness of art, as opposed to when things are going well and the art suffers?

Nelson George: Every historical epoch where there’s conflict, it does help certain artists. Some people can be explicitly political but for others, it becomes an internal journey that can also be just as powerful. One of the best eras of hip hop was the crack era, which was terrible time in the country and under Reagan. And some great art came out of that. Often artists respond with some of their best work because it touches their friends and their community in a way that’s inspiring. And anger, as much as love, inspires art.

Common: Artists, when we have something we’re passionate about, we speak up. It’s the truth that comes out at that time. But you have to be passionate about it. I think this era we’re in now is just as tough as the Reagan era in many instances, but the artists are speaking up. They feel it. They feel it in their spirits. I think the one thing we have in hip hop that you had in that 80s era is a lot of people were kind of educated politically to a certain degree; socially and politically so they knew what to talk about. I was learning about things from Chuck D and from KRS-One and I learned from them. They had something to say. They knew what was going on. I don’t know if it was age or whatever the case, but they knew. And even in this crucial era, I think that the music can be more powerful, the art can be more powerful when people are passionate about it and they really do care.

Other highlights include Common giving praise to director Ava DuVernay, sharing some of his Hip-Hop influences such as Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers and Brand Nubian and how K-Dot and Chance are today’s version of that revolutionary sound.

Check out some of the footage from the event below and on the following pages.

Photo: Carolyn Amuaro for Street Dreams

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