Common has just gone way, way off the hip-hop map
In the late 1960s, civil rights struggles, and demonstrations against the Vietnam war in America, gave birth to heavy psychedelia and searing soul music. 2002 in turn finds the parallel threats of urban USA ghetto social meltdowns and George W Bush’s War Aaginst Terror producing responses from hardcore hip-hop and rock’n’roll alike.
So, what does this have to do with Common, premier Chicago rapper, all round bohemian beatnik and current squire to Erykah Badu? Well, he’s just made the weirdest hip-hop album in recent memory, a suite of songs that take in soul, psychedelia, techno, hip-hop and avant-garde experimentation – and perfectly reflect these scarily troubled times.
‘Electric Circus’ acts like a musical prism that looks different, depending on what angle its viewed from. It does take some time to reveal its pleasures, but anyone who perseveres will be rewarded. The Common of ‘One Day It’ll All Make Sense’ and the soulfully unconventional ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ can mainly be found here in lyrical imagery and in the grain of his familiar voice; musically, all bets are off.
Wonder how? Notice the way ‘New Wave’ features Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab. And, if that’s not enough, how about ‘Electric Wire Flower Hustler’ being powered by a monster riff by P.O.D’s Sonny?
And yet again, the most striking aspect here has gotta be the way guests like Mary J Blige, Omar, Bilal, Cee-Lo, The Neptunes’ Pharell Williams, The Roots’ Questlove, and Jill Scott also go way off the beaten track. From the African ancestor worship rituals of ‘Ferris Wheel’ to the closing haunted gospelisms of ‘Heaven Somewhere’, the main impression is one of Common‘s bravery as an artist. Tastes weaned on funk samples, lyrical shoot-em-ups and brand name shoutouts to Gucci, Cristal champagne and Versace might find ‘Electric Circus’ difficult to stomach, but, hey, that’s their loss.
Where else would you find ‘I Am Music’ bringing back 1920’s vaudeville jazz, or ‘Jimi Was A Rock Star’ asking Jimi Hendrix to come back and set his people free? Common has just gone way, way off the hip-hop map.