If you are a fan of Common’s older work and/or a general hip hop fan, chances are you don’t like Electric Circus. It is a record that is without a doubt, Common’s most adventurous but also probably his most alienating. It is a more rock-influenced record and one that involves very left-field concepts. For example there is a song called “Electric Wire Hustle Flower” and God knows whatever the f*ck that is. Then there is a song where Common and Erykah sing a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. No, not sing-song. Actual singing. If you’re a Common lover who is curious about Common’s singing capabilities, just quietly assume that the sleepy man singing with Badu is not him.
Musically, it is close to being a masterpiece. While J Dilla brought funky, atmospheric beats to LWFC, ?uestlove brings multi-layered rock and soul instrumentation that feels majestic. And it is far from the typical hip hop fan’s taste (old or new). The Neptunes would start their working relationship with Common on this album, contributing the lead (and only) single, “Come Close” and “I Got A Right Ta”. But it is ?uestlove’s weird rock/soul production that reigns. Things go from unusual to downright strange (“New Wave”). Even Pharrell and Chad get their country rock on in “I Got a Right Ta”.
The rhymes may be the biggest disappointment here. And Common rhymes lack the punch and cleverness that was present in Resurrection, One Day, and LWFC. In fact, “Between Me, You, and Liberation” may be the only song that says something new. Common discusses his homophobia and his revelation after discovering that one of his longtime friends turned out to be gay. He also admits the prevalent misogyny in not just hip hop, but in his music as well.
But there are those sporadic moments where the old Common arises and shines for a moment:
I’m the only cat in hip hop that can go into a thrift shop
Connect, get up to the ghetto and get props
If you gonna get that glock don’t be scared to lick shot
Hip Hop is changin, y’all want me to stay the same?
Sorta like Barkley on how I see the game
I recognize game like a scout
Ayo, I’m bound to wreck your lady as I turn your lady out
I ain’t about that
Messing with no other man’s women
Because of jealousy then a man go under
Understand a man and his mental
Listening to Joan Mitchell
With the fan and the window
Can it be so simple then?
I rock Rockports, you rock Timberlands
I want a Rover, but I’m thinking long range
I ain’t switch over, I just made my own lane
Even in that quoted verse, there are still some lacking elements but it was probably the best example I could find. And the lack of consistency is what really brings Electric Circus from a great album to a could-have-been-great album.
So in truth, Common’s second album with the Soulquarians is a mess. It’s a daring, adventurous, and quite entertaining mess. But it’s still a mess. No way around it. And if the man claims to be the embodiment of music, there’s gotta be more to it than amazing production and inconsistent rhymes. Hell, even Lil Wayne claims to be music but are we really believing it?
Favorite Tracks: “Aquarius”, “Come Close”, “New Wave”, and “Between You, Me, and Liberation”