What lessons did you learn while dating tennis great Serena Williams?
As far as me being in love, I’ve learned to just be myself—more of a man—in any relationship, whether I was dating Serena or whomever. Finally, I feel I’m able to be me and really know what I want and make steps toward those things that are special to me. Like I want children, I want to have a home, I should be starting a family. One difference between Erykah and Serena was that the [presence of] paparazzi is much stronger now than it was in 2000 and 2001. Serena’s a super international star and my profile [when we were] together was a [big deal] for some people. I remember when I made the cover of the Chicago Sun Times for the first time it was in the middle of our relationship and I’m thinking, This is for real. People are paying attention. But I handle [the attention] the way real men do: Keep family and personal business in your home. Now, that doesn’t mean if that’s your woman you go out with her and not feel proud about [being with] her [like it’s a big secret]; but you don’t have to let everyone know what’s going on in your relationship.
Even with living under a microscope, you’ve excelled in your music and film careers, even making it to the White House despite Fox News coining you a “gangster rapper.” How did you combat the negativity?
That was a monumental moment for me to recite poetry at White House for the first Black president and the first lady. I wondered if [the Fox News report] affect my participation, but once I was reassured that I was going to be able to go to the White House, I was honored. The crazy thing is Fox News knew who I was and did a story on me a few years ago saying I was a positive and good artist. Then later on down the line you have Bill O’Reilly saying I’m not. It makes you wonder: Are they even communicating with one another? I’m not here to pick them apart. I just really thought, they don’t know who I am and they are trying to bring Obama down and it’s not working.
What’s the most sound business advice you’ve received?
To save as much money as possible, spend wisely and always observe and surround yourself with intelligent people who have goals.
Make sense. Now what’s this we hear about you playing a slave?
(Laughs) It’s [a TV show] called Hell on Wheels and airs on AMC [Sundays, 10pm EST]. It deals with issues of the transcontinental railroad set in 1865, and I play a freed slave rebel. We address issues that are relevant today—relationship drama, racial injustice and how greed affects us.
As you look to the future, what is your five-year plan?
To be married, have a family, own a television production company, become a Hollywood leading man, own homes in L.A. and New York (well, I have that, but more), keep my foundation Common Ground more elevated and…oh yeah, win an Oscar.
See a clip from Common’s new show, Hell on Wheels, airing this Sunday, below.