Common has grown from a boy to a man since the release of Can I Borrow a Dollar?, his 1992 debut issued under the name Common Sense. This evolution has been reflected heavily in his music. Still fresh off the success of 2000's Like Water for Chocolate, he returns with a new album, Electric Circus, and a handful of new ideas and experiments.
The instrumental introduction of "Ferris Wheel" gives a hint of what to expect from the project: soul. Musically, it ranges from the Prince-esque melodies of "Star *69" to Doors-sounding guitar and keyboards on "Electric Wire Hustler Flower" to the Santana-style guitar and percussion of "Aquarius." In addition to the sounds and music of the actual songs, Common and his cohorts offer the listener tidbits of instrumental beats between each track (à la Pete Rock and CL Smooth's Mecca and the Soul Brother), giving the album more of a "filled" feel. The CD was produced by three members of the Soulquarian crew -- Jay Dee (Slum Village, A Tribe Called Quest), James Poyser (Jill Scott, Musiq) and ?uestlove (the Roots) -- with contributions from hitmakers the Neptunes on "I Got a Right Ta" and Mary J. Blige, who appears on "Come Close."
Although the music is quite eclectic by hip-hop standards, Common is lyrically aggressive throughout. On "Soul Power," "New Wave" and the jazzy "I Am Music," he reminds listeners why he's one of the illest MCs in the game, tackling such topics as love, spirituality, the downfall of hip-hop and the need for revolution. Witness this couplet from "New Wave": "I lay terror in this era like Che Guevara/For the people to make or wait 'til it's better/In a room called 'real,' I stay forever/Everyday I lose something I gain forever/Meditate on how I can change the weather..."
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Though peppered with guest appearances from Erykah Badu, Bilal, Cee-Lo, Sonny of P.O.D., Jill Scott and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, Electric Circus is strictly Common's show. And while fans of his previous work may find this album a bit hard to digest with its disparate sounds and influences, music lovers who are looking for a mature hip-hop album will find it an uncommon gem.