Common

Actor and hip-hop artist Common performs Saturday as part of the Summer Spirit Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Steven Taylor, Handout / September 9, 2011)

Last year, while working on the independent film "LUV" in Baltimore, Common received the type of treatment typical for a celebrity of his stature. He met the mayor in her office. He played basketball at Carmelo Anthony's gym.

But now, reflecting more than a year later, the 40-year-old Chicago-native born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. says it was meeting the people in their communities that made his brief time in Baltimore "one of the best experiences" the rapper and actor ever had.

"I was in the heart and soul of Baltimore," said Common, who returns to the area Saturday for the Summer Spirit Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. "I definitely felt a connection to the people. They're really hard-working people that want to have a better life. And I saw the struggle that exists there."

Common has long been a keen observer, dating back to his 1992 debut album, "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" In 2005, after a couple of experimental flops, he sounded rejuvenated on his sixth album, "Be," thanks to a budding partnership with Kanye West.

Their connection continues with the release of "Cruel Summer," the compilation album by West's G.O.O.D. Music crew due in September. Although he isn't signed to West's record label, Common is considered a member of the popular hip-hop clique.

Rap crews are nothing new, but in 2012, they're followed with fervor by hip-hop fans. Common says G.O.O.D.'s wide range of personalities — from the melodic and moody Kid Cudi to street-rap traditionalist Pusha T to rising punch-line rapper Big Sean — will separate his group from others such as Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group and Lil Wayne's Young Money label.

"It's a great conglomerate of artists that really express themselves with creativity and truth," Common said. "The beauty of the album is you're going to have songs with Common and [Atlanta rapper] 2 Chainz, which is a combination people might not expect."

As of now, Common doesn't know which songs he'll appear on because West, widely known as a studio perfectionist, has final say. That type of uncertainty fueled the crew's writing process and brought a sense of competition to the project, he said.

"We all want to be known as the coldest MC," Common said. "As much as we support each other, I want my verse to draw people in."

His desire to succeed goes beyond the microphone. Common's other passion, acting, has landed him roles in high-profile films such as 2007's "American Gangster" and 2009's "Terminator Salvation."

On Aug. 12, the second season of "Hell on Wheels," a Western drama set in the 19th century on AMC, premieres, with Common reprising his role as former slave Elam Ferguson.

"He's taking a lot of big steps for a black man in that time," he said. "When you start getting into power, you lose certain things, too, if you're not used to it. He's going through different struggles."

While he's not the first rapper to catch the acting bug, Common is one of the few with the ability to make a viewer forget about his other job. He says he's always taken the craft seriously, dating back to his first acting class 10 years ago.

"I wasn't just going for it to be on a movie set," Common said. "It was like, 'Man, I love doing this.'"

While he's passionate for acting, Common's first love will always be hip-hop. He plans to soon start working on two albums: a rap-meets-jazz project driven by collaborations and a more traditional rap record. Common says the recent wave of young rappers — he cites Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and previous lyrical foe Drake as examples — "are bringing life to the music."

"I love that there's different crews," Common said. "I'm hearing stuff and it gives me that urge to write. Hip-hop is alive and growing."

wesley.case@baltsun.com
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If you go

Common performs Saturday as a part of the Summer Spirit Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Erykah Badu, Estelle, Chuck Brown's band and others will also perform. Doors open at 3 p.m. Tickets are $44-$125. Call 877-435-9849 or go to merriweathermusic.com.