Common Denominator

Q: What do the movie American Gangster, second-place pizza, and sweater vests have in common?A: Common!

In American Gangster and
Smokin’ Aces, you play a right-hand man. When do you get to

be the

man?
[Laughs] At this point as a

new actor, I’m taking the roles that allow me to grow, and I’m not taking on too

much. But I am ready to be the leading

man.

You’re one of three

rappers in the cast. Is branching off outside of hip-hop the only way to pay the

upkeep on a Bentley these days?

Every individual has

their path. I don’t care if you rap, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a good actor. If

I try a singing career and I can’t sing, it ain’t gonna work. People have to

find things that fit them and work well with them. For me, it’s about building a

legacy and expressing myself as an artist and continuing to build a platform for

me to make change in the world.

How come you

didn’t get to express yourself on the American Gangster

soundtrack?

Originally it was brought up, but obviously

once Jay-Z wanted to go on this thing, I think they decided to follow through

with that. I don’t know why it didn’t come together. It just

didn’t.

Your shows used to be full of “coffee shop chicks and

white dudes.” Has that changed any?

Actually it has

changed. Along with the coffee shop ladies and the white cats, it’s a lot of

mainstream people. It’s multicultural, and it’s not just limited to the artsy

crowd. There’s people that shop at Saks 5th Avenue and in the

‘hood.

And the

Gap?

[Laughs] Yeah, the Gap!

Level with us: How many outfits from the Gap

do you actually have in your

closet?

[Laughs] I’ve got a nice

amount. They broke me off with some nice ones. I also make sure my daughter has

what she needs. She loves the Gap’s

clothes.

Speaking of white guys, can you

explain why John Mayer, who might be the whitest guy in recorded history, has

been so embraced by hip-hop?

I think that’s what’s

fresh. Soul is about being in tune with who you are and not being scared to

express that. John Mayer’s blessed with gifts as a musician—he’s an artist, and

he’s blessed with a soulful sound. He’s not tryin’ to be anyone but him, and

people respect that. I respect that. You don’t have to be a certain color for me

to love and respect you. It’s just about being

you.

Agreed. So how come so many rappers are

spitting other guys’ rhymes?

I’ve never [used] anybody

else’s lyrics, but I’ve written some for people. It’s fun for me, because I get

to live through them. It’s almost like being a character. I wrote for Will Smith

before, and it was like I get to be Will Smith and tell his

story.

Cubs or White Sox?

The White Sox. I’m from the South

Side.

But now that you’re living in New York,

who has better pizza?

[Laughs]

Chicago, baby! Come on. I love this spot called Giordano’s. They have the best

deep-dish pizza. It’s amazing.

So a draw, then.

One last thing—did you ever end up on the wrong side of one of Denzel’s

backhands?

[Laughs] No, not really.

I did get a bucket to the shin. I still got a mark on my leg from a scene where

Denzel was smacking this bucket around. It’s cool, though. I mean, I’ll always

remember that mark for the rest of my life.

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Maxim Staff