Rapper and actor Common stopped by the Eagle Academy for Young Men in Tremont Monday.
More than 500 students, dressed in grey slacks, blue shirts and navy blue sweaters, were in the auditorium for student council elections when Common walked in.
Students jumped to their feet and the room erupted in deafening applause as Common took the stage, rapping his song “Blue Sky.”
“I look around this room, and I feel greatness,” Common said.
The Chicago entertainer was in town to promote his new album “The Dreamer/The Believer,” due out Tuesday.
Common said he dreamed of playing professional basketball until the 7th grade when he found his passion for writing rap lyrics.
He treated his audience to a sample of the first rap he wrote:
“Well let me tell you 'bout a trip a time ago / I was going there to run a cold-blooded show...”he started. A few lines later, he dissolved into laughter saying, “I forget the rest.”
Common urged students to continue working hard and to turn obstacles into valuable lessons.
“You all have something you are really passionate about,” he said. “ And you can achieve it. You’re strong, intelligent and God-blessed young men. God put you here to do greatness in this world. You do have a purpose.”
Common ended with a freestyle rap about Eagle Academy, which brought the crowd to their feet.
Nathaniel Hill Jr., a senior, liked what Common had to say.
“It was a powerful message,” he said. “It’s about perseverance. In order to gain success, you have to struggle. ”
Principal David Banks said the rapper’s speech hit home.
“We can talk to our young people as educators,” he said, “ but when they hear it from one of their heroes, it always resonates.”
Banks said that while some of Common’s lyrics have caused controversy in the past, his larger body of work is in sync with the school’s message about transforming the lives of young men.
“And it was exciting too for the female teachers who I think are even bigger fans,” Banks laughed.
After Common finished his talk, Banks called up “the ladies of Eagle” to take a group picture with the rapper., and
there was a mad dash for the stage.
Common took a moment to respond to a controversy about his new song, "The Dreamer," which features an original poem by Maya Angelou - and the "N"word. The Pulitzer-Prize winning poet was said to be disapppointed by his use of the slur.
The rapper said the two have since talked.
"Of course we don't agree on everything in life," he said. "But we're in a good space.”