Common in the official video for ‘Letter to the Free’; Photo: Def Jam/Vevo/Common


Common is at it again with the humanitarian work, this time winning an Emmy Award.

He won the award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for his song “Letter to the Free” from the soundtrack to the Netflix documentary 13th, of which explores injustices bound around race in the American prison system.

The film is named after Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (the abolishment of slavery except as a punishment for crime), while Common’s song explores those themes with a jazz and gospel-laced howler that is not afraid of letting a little blood to get its message across.

Here’s an excerpt from its second verse:

The caged birds sings for freedom to ring
Black bodies being lost in the American dream
Blood of black being, a pastoral scene
Slavery’s still alive, check Amendment 13
Not whips and chains, eye subliminal
Instead of ‘nigga’ they use the word ‘criminal’
Sweet land of liberty, incarcerated country

“This is really for the people that are incarcerated,” he said in an Instagram video post. “We believe and know that we can bring the love to the people that’s locked up. That’s what we are doing this for. This is gonna make me do more work. But hey, I’m celebrating too though.”

These are not just words. Common meets with California prison inmates to perform for them and to hear from them about their experiences. This is a part of his mission to help change the state’s criminal justice system.

His Instagram caption showed how passionate he is about this mission.

“Although I’m honored and excited beyond belief for this award, my motivation for doing this song was from the heart like it always is,” he writes. “This award is for all the incarcerated people in the prison system and for justice.”

He then quotes the late rapper Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest: “I’ll never let a statue tell me how nice I am…”

The documentary reveals just how many racial issues the United States justice system has built into it. The film itself won three Emmys, including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, Writing for Nonfiction Programs, and Outstanding Motion Design.

Common ended his Instagram caption with hopeful words regarding his mission.

“We have more work to do and this is only the beginning,” he writes. “So please don’t think for 1 second that my passion for justice stops here. Thank You.”

This award came from The Creative Arts Emmys, which they give out before the actual Emmy Awards ceremony. The ceremony will take place on September 17.

Watch Common’s Instagram speech below, followed by the official video for “Letter to the Free.”