November 27, 2015 10:15 AM

Music has often been blamed for glorifying and inciting gun violence – but can it inspire people to put the guns down, as well?

A group of hip hop artists – including Oscar-winner Common – think it can. Last month, the community arts and empowerment organization Chicago Ideas unveiled “Music vs. Gun Violence,” a social movement that attempts to prevent gun violence through positive music.

The initiative couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the first half of 2015 alone, more than 1,000 people were wounded by gunshots in Chicago, according to the the Chicago Tribune. By October, that number had swelled to 2,300 wounded – more than in New York and Los Angeles combined.

In response to those staggering numbers, a group of rap and hip hop artists have decided to take action, encouraging young people to “Put the Guns Down.” Several artists, including Common, Lil Herb and King Louie produced a video, and have invited the public to add their own verses to the song, drawing on personal experience.

Dozens of people have added their own stories to the video, and the hashtag #PutTheGunsDown has trended, not only in Chicago, but in other major cities.

For Common, 43, the initiative has become personal.


“I grew up on the South side,” he recalled. “I grew up amongst the black middle- to poor class people. There was definitely a lot of love in the community, but there was violence and gang culture in the community.

“With that, I’ve seen friends who died due to gun violence, and I’ve also seen friends who went on to pursue things in college and become doctors,” he said.

He added, “Coming from where I come from, I feel like it’s my duty to raise up the village that you come from. I owe that responsibility, especially given the blessings and platforms that I’ve been able to reach.”

The idea behind the crowd-sourced video is that even those without the global reach of Common can have their voices heard.

“We wanted to do our small part to give a platform to the activists, families and communities who are fighting against gun violence every day,” says Jessica Malkin, executive director of Chicago Ideas. “At Chicago Ideas, we strive to build bridges, inspire action and amplify the voices that most need to be heard – and often are not”

Fans in Chicago and around the world are encouraged to show their support by adding a verse to the video at The Music vs. Gun Violence website, and to join the discussion on social media using the hashtag #PutTheGunsDown.

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