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CD REVIEW

Common Uncommon

Not Just Any Old Hip-Hop

By Ashley Robinson

Electric Circus

Common

MCA

Dec. 10, 2002

Ever feel that if you hear Nelly talk about his Air Force Ones again or J. Lo remind you one more time that she’s from “the block” you are going to hurl? I mean, this music is okay -- you’ll bob your head, shake your butt, and sing along, but that’s about it, folks. For all of us craving music that reflects creativity, passion, and truth, you don’t have to wait anymore. Common’s new album Electric Circus has rolled into town and presents a musical treat for those bored with the cookie-cutter mess that fills our radio stations these days.

Common delivers his patented brand of laid-back, socially conscious lyrics, but don’t mistake this for a repeat of his previous four albums. Common takes us to a new place where R&B and rap fuse with ’70s soul, a touch of rock ’n’ roll, and a sprinkle of ’30s flavor for good measure. Usually when an artist decides to “experiment,” there is cause for concern, but Common manages to step outside of the boundaries without falling off the edge.

And he can flow too. I’m not talking about the nursery rhymes most present-day rappers recite. His words are poetry, pure and simple. He does the unthinkable in the rap world by not once objectifying women or mentioning his “ride,” “crib,” “gear,” or “bling-bling” -- in other words, material possessions, for those who have not yet taken Hip-Hop (21M.775).

Then what on earth does he talk about for over an hour? He touches on life, death, love, freedom, fears, and hope in a way that inspires and enlightens listeners while they nod their heads to the funky beats.

Most tracks are either written or produced by the one and only ?uestlove from The Roots. Guest artists include Common’s own father Lonnie “Pops” Lynn, Queen of R&B Mary J. Blige, P.O.D.’s Sonny, Jill Scott, Common’s rumored fiancÉe Erykah Badu, and many more.

The album opens with “Ferris Wheel,” which features circus sounds and interesting beats. Over these beats, guest artist Vinia Monica sets the mood for the album with a mellow tune sung in an African language. Immediately following is “Soul Power,” which lets the listener know right then and there that they have never heard anything like Electric Circus. At first, the unique but simple beat shocks those used to the generic stock of over-sampled sounds, but as soon as Common starts to rhyme it all falls into place.

“Come Close,” featuring Mary J. Blige, sets the mood for couples as Common demonstrates he’s not afraid to show his soft side. Another highlight of this album is “Between Me, You, and Liberation.” You’ll definitely be reaching for a tissue as Common explores themes like rape, disease, and homosexuality.

Trust me. Electric Circus is more entertaining than the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. Common is a true artist. He’s not in it for the money or the fame; he doesn’t follow the pack; and he’s not going to trade in his originality for a slot on TRL. He simply loves his craft and it shows in all of his music from the lines to the beats. It’s been a long time since an album like Electric Circus has come along. Don’t miss out!