An Uncommon Flow: Common performs with Houston Symphony"
Common performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards "Let's Go Crazy" The GRAMMY Salute To Prince on January 28, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

“Common with the Houston Symphony” was a featured program on the Houston Symphony’s summer series that drew fans from all over the metro area to attend. Houstonians had the rare opportunity to witness a hip-hop performance accompanied by a live orchestra—not a band, but an orchestra. Yes, the classical instrumentation was present: woodwinds, brass, percussions and strings, along with the hip-hop icon Common.

This article was written by Special Contributor to the Defender, L.J. Garfield

Common collaborated with Steven Reineke, who conducted the live musical arrangements for the two sold-out shows at the Hobby Center. The diverse audience enjoyed the motif of melodies, rhythms and harmonies, all intertwined with the thought-provoking lyrics of a conscientious Black man.

“Common is using his musical platform to bring people with diverse racial backgrounds but similar social ideologies together for the common good of our nation, and the good of our global communities,” said Tonya Sykes, event attendee. “I was so surprised to see so many non-Black people here.”

“The performance was absolutely dope,” said professional musician, educator and artist Ikechi Ojore. “I’m not usually at a loss for words, but simply put, it was amazing.”

Additionally, Common and his team hosted intimate meet and greets each night after the shows interacting with some of Houston’s power players to share and discuss the opportunities to team up with his non-profit Common Ground and his newest social project The Stardust Kids.

Common Ground was created in 2002 by Dr. Mahalia Hines and Common to provide leadership and mentoring support to at-risk high school populations in his hometown of Chicago. Programming includes Window of Opportunity (WOO) Academy, an entity that addresses freshmen year transitions by providing students with the tools to be successful learners. 

Common Ground’s Dreamers and Believers Program exposes students to fine arts career paths and college readiness mentorship. During the meet and greet, there were unconfirmed whispers of Common Ground expanding to Houston.

The Stardust Kids is an incubator collective for emerging artists and artistic entrepreneurs that encourages, supports and develops the raw talent of youth in the program. One of the core goals of the collective is to teach members how to incorporate social justice issues (and any other important issues they chose) into the expression of their art.

Common formerly known as Common Sense, is best known for his conscientious rap since he dropped his first album “Can I Borrow a Dollar” in 1992. With over 20 years in the entertainment sector, Common has continued to reinvent himself by portraying diverse roles in television and films, performing voiceover roles in animation movies, executive producing the Netflix drama “Burning Sands” and the Showtime urban drama “The Chi,” all while maintaining his commitment to national social justice issues.

Common won an Oscar for the song “Glory” (with John Legend), a Grammy for “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)” and an NAACP award for his role in “Selma.”

His current album, “A Beautiful Revolution Part 2,” is a poetic call to community activism amid jazzy tones, fast-paced R&B tempos and Latin-flavored guitar chords. Common brings attention to social, racial and economic injustices in the Black community with cuts like “Courageous,” “A Place in This World” and the title track “A Beautiful Revolution.” 

If there was a common theme that tied all his songs performed with the Houston Symphony together, it was reflected in one of Common’s own lyrics: “Remember your light when the word seems shady.”

L.J. Garfield (aka Mama Wata Flow) is the host of “Word Bender,” a radio show / podcast that can be heard on All Real Radio ( every Friday from 6p.m. – 8p.m. Garfield is also a health science instructor at the Pima Medical Institute, along with being a spoken word artist and community activist.