Rapper Common has been pulled as the 2015 commencement speaker for Kean University in New Jersey following an outcry from the state’s police officers, according to Bergen County newspaper The Record.
Common — who recently won an Academy Award for his song “Glory” from the movie Selma — was announced as Kean’s commencement speaker through the college’s Twitter account Monday night, The Record reports. However, on Tuesday a Kean spokesperson told the newspaper that the announcement was premature.
“The students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ with our prior commencement speaker John Legend,” Kean spokeswoman Susan Kayne said. “While we respect his talent, Kean is pursuing other speaker options.”
Well known for his socially conscious lyrics, Common has been the subject of controversy for his 2000 track “A Song for Assata.”
The song supposedly portrays Joanne Chesimard — also known as Assata Shakur — as a victim, following her 1973 killing of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. Convicted of Foerster’s murder in 1977, Shakur escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where she reportedly still lives.
New Jersey law enforcement representatives were quick to denounce Kean’s choice of Common as this year’s commencement speaker, drawing attention to Kean as a public university.
“We can’t control who the university invites to speak. However, we will continue our efforts to make the public aware of Joanne Chesimard’s escape and life on the lam and continue to seek her return to New Jersey and justice,” Steve Jones, spokesman for the New Jersey state police, told The Record.
Another New Jersey law enforcement union representative told Vibe that Common speaking at Kean’s graduation would be a “slap in the face.”
This is not the first time the rapper has faced controversy over his lyrics. In 2011, Common was invited to perform at the White House, prompting criticism from Fox News and several Republican commentators.
Here’s the controversial track, “A Song for Assata”:
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