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With his song for '13th,' Common just wants to be 'part of moving things forward'

Common has been watching a British show called "Chewing Gum" and wishes he had been on "A Different World" because he had a crush on its star, Lisa Bonet.

Common has won three Grammys, a Golden Globe and an Oscar. So it's only natural that the rapper, actor and composer is now up for an Emmy.

His song "Letter to the Free" from Ava DuVernay's Netflix documentary "13th" has been nominated for outstanding music and lyrics.

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"It's still one of those things like, 'Wow, we are getting recognized by the academy,'" said the rapper, 45, who won the original song Oscar for "Glory" from the film "Selma." Common, a.k.a Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., also played civil rights leader James Bevel in the film. "As an artist, I create art I want to share, but it's great to get the nomination, especially for something that has so much meaning."

"Letter to the Free," like "13th," addresses the issue of mass incarceration in the United States. As Common explained during a recent stop by the Envelope's video studio, "The 13th is an amendment that says slavery is abolished unless someone commits a crime… It's evolved [and] is now targeting black and brown people across America for mass incarceration. It's an epidemic that's destroying America in many ways. So, for me to write a song about this, it's fulfilling. It's what I want my music and art to be, part of the enlightenment, part of moving things forward."

Common is one of at least four other names from the rap world who are up for Emmys this year, including LL Cool J, Chance the Rapper, Snoop Dogg and Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover of "Atlanta"). It's a first for hip-hop and the Television Academy.

"Rap music and the culture has been able to bring so many people together, it's great it has been accepted by the mainstream," said Common. "It's also great to have [our] voices recognized by the Emmys, and [none of us] really needed to change to get there."

Common's versatility makes it appear as if the artist is comfortable in just about any stage or platform. But it turns out no. So what still makes him nervous?

"I definitely get nervous when I start doing a film," he said. "And speaking engagements. And playing in the celebrity basketball game. I get a little nervous about that. All my friends are watching, and there's a lot of pressure to be a good basketball player because I'm from Chicago."

If Common does land an Emmy when the winners are announced in September, all that's left to join the exclusive EGOT club is a Tony.

"I would love to be one of 12 or 13 people who have [an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony]," he said. "People are like, 'I don't care,' but I do! It doesn't usurp my passion for what I do, but after I make stuff, I do hope people recognize it… But I don't think I'll wear an EGOT T-shirt around. I'll just call a few friends to tell them I won."

See the full interview below:

Oscar and Grammy-winning rapper Common says the song he worked on for the "13th" documentary about minority incarceration is "part of the enlightenment" that "moves things forward" and inspired him to do more, including visiting prisons in California.
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