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The road to Common’s Emmy nomination for outstanding music and lyrics for his song “Letter to the Free” for Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th started at the Oscars.
When he and John Legend won for their song “Glory” for DuVernay’s Selma, Legend in his acceptance speech mentioned that “there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”
That fact led Common to learn about mass incarceration, reading the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and working on his own documentary about the subject. When he found out DuVernay was making 13th, he had to be a part of it. He asked DuVernay if he could write a song and ended up rapping a bit of it to her at the White House during a party for President Obama.
“The one thing I really love about getting to create ‘Letter to the Free’ was that I started to learn more,” the rapper told The Hollywood Reporter when he stopped by to discuss his Emmy nomination for the song. “This was almost like researching a role for me.”
Common also revealed that the song made DuVernay change the ending to 13th. “‘Letter to the Free’ made her feel more hopeful.”
Watch the full interview in the video above.
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