Electric Circus, Common, 2002
I remember digging for this album as if it never existed. Electric Circus was Common's 4th album and it didn't make too much noise (commercially). It makes sense that people would be shocked at the direction that he took with this album, but he's an artist. Why can't he do what he wants to or what he's feeling? I think it is worth mentioning that this album was made when Common was with Erykah Badu and she has an amazing ability to expand any man's musical awareness. Just think about Andre (Outkast) before and after Badu. On Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Andre blended into the background more and by the time ATLiens came out, he flipped his wig and broke the mold. I don't know them personally, but that is the perception from the outside in.
Electric Circus was a break from what people expected from Common. With Can I Borrow a Dollar?, Resurrection, One Day It'll All Make Sense and Like Water for Chocolate, Common had made a name for himself with grass roots hip hop fans because of his nostalgia, Afrocentric conscience, activism and creative wordplay. The music was versatile and diverse (jazzy, instrumental, soulful) and he worked with a lot of respected producers (DJ Premier, Dilla, D'Angelo, Questlove, James Poyser). So when he dropped an electric album, people weren't ready.
Electric Circus is consistent and it has a lot of depth to it. Musically, the album pushed the envelope and begs people that claim to love hip hop to question what hip-hop can be. As a culture, hip hop desperately needs to push the envelope and see where it can go. I don't think hip hop is portrayed very well in the media because there is not enough variety. I believe it is simply a matter of perception.
The album name is based on a place in NYC called (Electric Circus) that encouraged people to experiment or "play games, dress as you like, dance, sit, think, tune in and turn on," It's hard to explain this album with respect to musical styles. The sounds of organs, electric guitars, keyboards, deep aquatic bass lines, scratches and drums all create a funky, soulful and contemplative album. Common's lyrical style is consistent and his flow show why he earned respect of people across the world. There also is more substance in this album and I think it can appeal to a lot of different people. Overall, the album goes beyond the audience and creative restraints created by his success in the music industry. Success can be his obstacle and he obviously overcame it with this album. He tried the same thing with Universal Mind Control, but the album wasn't as successful musically although there were several decent tracks on the album.
Guest appearances add another layer to the album. Featured artists/producers include Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo, Questlove, The Neptunes/Pharrell Williams, Bilal, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Vinia Mojica, James Poyser, JD/Jay Dilla/Jay Dee/Dilla, Prince (that's right, PRINCE!)
[audio:http://ra-nyc.com/boywithstick/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/11-common-ferris_wheel_feat._vinia_mojica_and_marie_daulne_of_zap_mama-rec.mp3|titles=I Am Music feat Jill Scott]
[audio:http://ra-nyc.com/boywithstick/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/02-common-aquarius-rec.mp3|titles=Soul Power prod. J Dilla][audio:http://ra-nyc.com/boywithstick/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/09-common-the_hustle_feat._dart_chillz-rec.mp3|titles=I Got a Right Ta feat. Pharell Williams]
Soul Power, Aquarius, The Hustle, Come Close, New Wave, I Got a Right Ta, Between You, Me, You and Liberation, I am Music