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Common's “A Letter to the Law”

Updated on March 23, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Common aka Lonnie Rashid Lynn


Introduction and Excerpt from “A Letter to the Law”

Hip Hop artist, Common, stage name of Lonnie Rashid Lynn, dramatizes a call for peace in his “A Letter to the Law.” The letter turns out to be, at least, an open letter because not only does his speaker address the law, but he also addresses his fellow travelers and those who appreciate his art and message.

Because this piece is spoken in dialect, this analysis does not comment on the fractured grammar, which is quite appropriate for this speaker's message and purpose.

Excerpt from “A Letter to the Law”

Dem boy wanna talk like dem wanna gon come
But what you gon' do if you got one gun?
I sing a song for the hero unsung
With faces on the mural of the revolution
No looking back, cause in back is what's done
Tell the preacher God got more than one son
Tell the law my Uzi weighs a ton
I walk like a warrior from them I won't run . . .

To read the entire piece, please visit “A Letter to the Law” on Genius.

Common Performing "A Letter to the Law"


This piece, despite its unfortunate allusions to political propaganda, offers a useful call for peace which may be considered a “conscious art” experience, a type of art employed by political activists. Political activism in poetry virtually never produces fine, true art, even when it does offer a useful stance. Peace is certainly a useful place to which our fellows try to lead us, but a piece of art that reflects inaccurate political talking points will remain a flawed piece of art, and likely will not resonate widely or effect the societal conditions it purports to support.

First Movement: Testosterone Needed

Speaking in dialect, the speaker of this piece begins by noting that some boys talk big but do not have the power to accomplish much. He asks his fellow travelers what they intend to do, as he implies they can do little because of their lack of firepower. They got one gun; they need an arsenal in order to be effective in their struggle for revolution.

The speaker then declares that he is singing for the unsung heroes of the faceless revolution, even as he has just emasculated them for their lack of steam. The paucity of literal weapons may be interpreted as the symbolic short supply of testosterone in combating their opposition.

Second Movement: We All Children of God

The speaker then offers a very thoughtful, useful bit of didacticism. He tells his cousin that there is no use looking back on the past because "Back is whats done." He advises those cousins, brothers, fellow revolutionaries to defy the notion that God created only one son, implying beautifully, if awkwardly, that they are all children of God.

The speaker then hyperbolically claims that his mind (and theirs) is very large, and he instructs his fellows to tell that to the law. He metaphorically refers to his brain power as my Uzi and asserts that he is a warrior, and he will not run from the law.

Third Movement: An Unfortunate Misunderstanding

In this movement, the speaker alludes to the Cincinnati riots, but his understanding of the riots is faulty; thus, he offers a faulty conclusion. Those fellow revolutionaries who try to follow propaganda masquerading as facts will not find the peace that this speaker seems to want to promote.

The speaker pits the law, which he wants his listeners to equate with power, against his community, or more specifically the brothers to whom he is appealing. He makes the ludicrous assertion that they—the power structure in society—build up sports stars, Kobe, and entertainers, Michael Jackson, just to turn around and attack them.

As with the reference to the Cincinnati riots, the speaker suggests that the targets of the lawsuits are simply innocent men targeted because they happen to be black. Listeners and readers, however, will be well aware that there are innumerable fine African American sports figures, musicians, actors, and other entertainers who have not been the target of a lawsuit.

This hapless movement unfortunately diminishes the speaker's credibility that he so richly deserves in other movements, especially the second, which contains important universal truths.

Fourth Movement: Using Brain Over Brawn

This movement returns to a well-reasoned, sensible advice the might have been offered by a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mahatma Gandhi. He tells his fellows to use "your mind and non power." The speaker says those fellows who are not using their heads just brag about gunning down the law, while he thinks remaining alert to injustice is the answer.

Fifth Movement: Braggers vs Thinkers

The speaker explains the useless dichotomy of us vs. them: while detectives, the law, are filled with testosterone, his buddies, his people, "got a lotta Pac in them." The thug life-style portrayed by the late Tupac Shakur, whose run-ins with the law elevated the rapper to legendary status in some circles, has not done his compatriots who try to emulate him, any good.

The speaker surmises that if he could get the two groups, the braggers and the thinkers, together, they could quell the violence and discord that exists between the law and the citizens.

Sixth Movement: Down with Braggadocio, Up with Dreams

The speaker then claims that they are losing time by engaging in this discord and braggadocio. He insists that he will stay true to what [he does] so he can realize his dream, thus urging his fellows to do the same.

Seventh Movement: Ending on a Positive Note, Despite Propaganda

The final movement finds the speaker once again emitting useless ideology: President George W. Bush went to war for oil and grease; there were supposedly no weapons of destruction. Using mere talking points spewed endlessly by opposition to the Bush administration, he tries to convince his fellows that that administration is corrupt, and thus they do not need to respect it.

While political posturing is never effective in poetry, this speaker, fortunately, has offered some appropriate advice to his listeners/readers, and he leaves them on a positive note. With the claim that unity prevails in the black community, he asserts that he hold[s] up a peace sign but [he] carries a gun—an assertion reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt's "Speak softly, but carry a big stick."

In this case, the gun, that is, [his] Uzi that weighs a ton, is a metaphor, just as it was in the Roosevelt quotation. But in this piece that Uzi is a metaphor for the mind, while in Teddy Roosevelts the big stick was a metaphor for actual war weapons.

And his final remark, "Peace y'all, Love," the speaker leaves the listener positively charged to go out and do the right thing with mind and heart fully engaged. While the useless political inaccuracies mar the overall impact of the piece, the ultimate message is useful and appropriate.


Common on Hip Hop

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment
  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 days ago from U.S.A.

    Yes, too many postmoderns have littered the poetry world with the "squiggly line" style of verse. They are fraudulent hucksters, but not a few of them have made themselves a decent living out of their fake art. The ilk of Robert Bly, Marvin Bell, and Carolyn Forché come to mind, but there are many others. Their blather and bilge do offer the opportunity for the serious critic, scholar, or commentarian to demonstrate their paste and show what not to admire in poetry.

  • Majestic Tells profile image


    3 days ago from Kanab, Utah

    Thanks...couldd certainly using the blessings, and I too cringe when people say that about poetry...kinda like three squiggly lines on a paper (that my 2 yr old grandchild could have done)lend a famous name...MASTERPIECE suddenly...

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    3 days ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you for your responses, Laurinzoscott.

    Yes, it is odd that so many political activists consider themselves capable of writing poetry--just one more kink of misunderstanding regarding the poetic arts. The first and worst and is that "poetry can man anything you want it to," but the others like using poetry for political activism is as you say a "tragedy" plus it's just plain wrong.

    Have a nice day, and blessings to you and yours, Laurinzoscott!

  • Majestic Tells profile image


    4 days ago from Kanab, Utah being commonly (pun intended) what I call a multi-platformer performer...but we all know the tragedy of mixing politics and art....oil and

  • Majestic Tells profile image


    4 days ago from Kanab, Utah

    You are welcome...ive just been blessed to be on opposite sides of many issues; been both the opposed and opposer...we are more similiar than we think...;)

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    4 days ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Laurinzoscott, for your level-headed responses. Your kind words are healing balms in a world that seems too often on the verge of bursting into flames.

    God be with you, and blessings to you and yours!

  • Majestic Tells profile image


    4 days ago from Kanab, Utah

    I totally understand...we all have our opinions and if we dont express them to each other (in a civil way, of course) we lose ALL our freedoms

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    4 days ago from U.S.A.

    Hi, Laurinzoscott!

    I will likely continue pouring out my views; although I would never argue that they are objective, perhaps objectionable to a number of folks, especially here at HubPages.

    Thank you for your continued interest and responses to my articles.

  • Majestic Tells profile image


    5 days ago from Kanab, Utah

    You ate welcome and please continue writing, and pouring out your objective view of the world...awesome !!!!

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    5 days ago from U.S.A.

    While misguided in certain political areas, Common seems to be a really nice fellow. Perhaps a little arrogant but still in touch enough to say some useful, even at times, insightful things. His use of metaphor shows real potential, and his ability to read his audience demonstrates a clear presence of mind.

    Thank you for your kind words, Laurinzoscott! Have a blessed day!

  • Majestic Tells profile image


    5 days ago from Kanab, Utah

    Wow...I universality in us all by virtue of your article,and that you were brave and thoughtful enough to print are speaking to things through this article(kinda channeling Common, or maybe Common is channeling you) because Ms Grimes you certainly seem enlightened...nicely done


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