Though Selma didn’t win Best Picture–and though its key players were denied mere nominations for their respective categories–Common and John Legend still found a way to achieve Oscar acclaim for the film.
The duo took home the golden statue for Best Original Song for “Glory” after performing it in front of the crowd at the 87th Academy Awards. And, at a ceremony lampooned (even by its own host, Neil Patrick Harris) for failing to embrace non-white actors and filmmakers in its nominations, they put Selma‘s lone Oscar win to good use.
“The struggle for justice is right now,” said Legend upon accepting the reward. “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. … When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you.”
For Common, too, raising awareness about social issues has long been a staple focus of his oeuvre–so much that it prompted Jay Z to rap the classic line, “Truthfully, I want to rhyme like Common Sense–but I did 5 mil / I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.”
Common has enjoyed plenty of commercial success himself, with a recent peak of $7 million in annual earnings in 2010, landing a spot on our Hip-Hop Cash Kings list that year.
But his most recent album, Nobody’s Smiling, deals with a decidedly non-commercial topic: the murder rate in his hometown of Chicago. He stopped by FORBES’ headquarters last year to explain.
“There’s a lot going on in Chicago,” he said. “There’s been some trouble there and with the tough times, I feel like I owe it to my city to create the awareness, to start thinking of solutions. … That’s the simple reason why I titled the album Nobody’s Smiling.”
Common recently took a similar approach when he and Legend took a trip to another significant destination: Selma, Alabama. There, they performed “Glory” on the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, the one immortalized on the silver screen.
Perhaps in a testament to guilt felt over the Selma snubs, the Academy featured a nearly life-sized recreation of the aforementioned bridge in Common and Legend’s Oscar set.
Their message was one of the night’s most enduring, and even typically-fleeting social media trends bore that out: At press time, only one 2015 Oscar winner’s name was still trending on Twitter TWTR +0.84%, while both Common and John Legend stood strong.