Release Date: 12.10.02
Record label: MCA
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.
by: bill aicher
Despite the ridiculous rise in popularity of popular "hip-hop" from artists like Ja Rule and Nelly (you couldn't avoid Hot In Herre if you lived in an igloo) in 2002, this year has been an amazingly fruitful year in quality hip-hop as well. Not for years has music been graced with such an array of unbelievable hip-hop albums; Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow, The Roots' Phrenology, and Talib Kweli's Quality immediately come to mind.
And then there's Common. Having laid relatively low since his 2000 release of the critically acclaimed Like Water for Chocolate, his latest album finds him walking a newly drawn line between hip-hop and "rockist" mentality. Where hip-hop has, for years, maintained a relatively similary approach to music making, Electric Circus (like Outkast's Stankonia), fights the battle of breaking these barriers.
Throughout his career, Common has been considered one of the most lyrically adept artists hip-hop has to offer. His earlier releases, most notably Resurrection and One Day It'll All Make Sense, focused primarily on the poetry of Common's lyricism - and earned him a hardy fanbase among the hip-hop underground. Like Water for Chocolate, Common's first record on MCA (and his first after a move from Chicago to New York City) found him focusing a bit more on the sonic end, employing the help of DJ Shadow and various guest artists including Slum Village and D'Angelo.
On Electric Circus, however, Common's penchant for innovation has exploded. Featuring an amazing array of guest artists, from Mary J. Blige, to Sonny of P.O.D., to Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, and others, Circus is ultimately much more than a hip-hop album. Certainly some tracks are classic hip-hop, including the superb first single "Come Close" (with Mary J. Blige). It's the song most similar to Common's past work, and vaguely reminiscient of "The Light" from Like Water for Chocolate.
But there's much more here - for those prepared for hip-hop to move on to another level. Because that's really what Common's doing with Circus. "New Wave" with Laetitia Sader of Stereolab (Stereolab!) is unlike anything else going on in hip-hop, or even in music. An ode to changing times, it's a perfect example of where music can begin to go once genres and labels are forgotten.
And then there's "I Am Music" with Jill Scott. It's hip-hop to dixieland. Beat that. Of course you could simply switch to the "dirty south" harmonica of "I Got a Right Ta" or the mind-blowing "Electric Wire Hustler Flower." I don't even know how to describe that one.
So no, this is not Resurrection part two. And thank God for that. Resurrection was a superb album, but for those ready to hear something that'll someday be considered visionary in the evolution of hip-hop, don't miss this circus. 23-Dec-2002 2:30 PM