The conscious rapper kicked off the University of South Florida's Fall Lecture Series on Monday night with a talk would have made Tony Robbins proud, teaching his philosophy of "find the right path, believe it, live it," from his new book One Day It'll All Make Sense.
The huge line to see the lecture stretched out the door of the Marshall Student Center ballroom, down the staircase to the first floor and outside into the amphitheater, where students waited in the rain.
After a crowd-pleasing freestyle that touched on the Andros dorms, Fowler Avenue and the late Leroy Selmon, Common talked about the life experiences that shaped him into the artist he is today.
Behind the mic or in front of the camera, Common's persona is one of extreme confidence, but, he said, it wasn't always that way. He explained that even after scoring a major hit with his now classic track "The Light," he still didn't fully believe in himself or his talent. The end of his relationship with singer Erykah Badu was a low point. [More after the jump.]
"I was heart-broke," he said. "But it did let me discover something about myself. I was willing to dim my light for other people a lot."
Common said that it was his collaboration with another hip hop artist during the making of his Be album that changed his perspective.
"Kanye West is a person who obviously has no problem believing in himself," he remarked, drawing some of the biggest laughs of the night. "During every listening session, he would be hopping up on the table and rapping his songs and sweating, feeling it and spitting on people. There was a point where he'd start doing songs that I didn't even like that I started to like, because belief is contagious."
Common said it was West's confidence that made him realize it was okay to shine all the time, to "play big" in everything he did.
There was certainly no trace of the so-called "thug" or his supposed themes of "misogyny" or "cop killing" that Fox News and others cited as reason for outrage when Common was invited to a White House poetry reading last May.
Common didn't address that controversy during his lecture, sticking mostly to subjects like goals, spirituality and motivation.
He did hint at a desire to further his acting career, though. After talking about losing movie roles to heavyweights like Jamie Foxx and Will Smith, the two-time Grammy winner said "I aint knocking [Smith and Foxx] out the box — right now — but I believe there will come a day."
His new TV drama, Hell on Wheels premieres on AMC on Nov. 6; and his album, The Dreamer, The Believer is due out Nov. 22 via Warner Bros.