- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The White House on Wednesday defended the decision to invite hip-hop artist Common to a poetry celebration hosted by President Obama and his wife, Michelle, saying they disavow some of the rapper’s controversial lyrics but accusing critics of blowing the issue out of proportion.

The head of New Jersey’s state trooper union has publicly blasted the White House’s invitation to Common, the stage name of Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., because of his “Song for Assata,” in which the rapper celebrated Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther who was convicted of killing a New Jersey trooper in the 1970s, with lyrics that included, “May God bless your soul.” High-profile conservatives such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have also weighed in, criticizing the decision to include Common.

But White House press secretary Jay Carney said it’s not fair to boil the rapper’s works down to just a few examples, and that the president and first lady have been clear about how they feel about over-the-line lyrics.

“He’s spoken very forcefully out against violent and misogynist lyrics,” Mr. Carney told reporters, adding that Mr. Obama’s support for the nation’s law enforcement officers is “extremely strong.”

Mr. Carney said Common, a Chicago native, is known as a “conscious rapper” who introduces poetry to audiences who would not otherwise be exposed to it.

“I think that one of the things that the president appreciates is the work that Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially in Chicago, trying to get them to focus on poetry as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the street,” he told reporters.

The head of New Jersey’s State Troopers Fraternal Association disagreed.

“The young people who read this stuff, hear this stuff, are getting a very dangerous and deadly message,” David Jones, president of the union, told NBC in New York.

As the controversy around the rapper unfolded Wednesday, he took to Twitter and Facebook to shrug off the criticism.

“Politics is politics and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I respect that,” he wrote on the social networking sites. “The one thing that shouldn’t be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day.”

Common also drew criticism for a 2007 television appearance in which he targeted then-President George W. Bush, saying in an HBO poetry special, “Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button.”

The flap comes just a few months after Mr. Obama issued a call to tone down political rhetoric in the wake of the Tucson shooting that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords injured and killed half a dozen others.

Mr. Carney noted that in the past Common has been praised by many, including a FoxNews.com reporter, for his “very positive” work.

Wednesday night’s event, described on the presidential schedule as “a celebration of American poetry and prose,” also included Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles, Aimee Mann and Jill Scott.

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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