Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Common, Electric Circus

Electric Circus is a good example of one of hip hop’s problems.  The beats and effects layered on the tracks are inventive and often atypical.  Common’s rhymes are smart and thoughtful.  There’s an uncommonly wide Electric Circusrange of music contained in the CD’s 13 tracks.  So, what’s the problem?  Well, that is the problem.  Electric Circus realizes some of the vast potential in hip hop at the expense of failing to fall into the tired old ruts that characterize the more popular sub genres of this type of music.  Common doesn’t give you phony gangsta posturing, ostentatious displays of slavery to the brand name, ludicrous self aggrandizement, or tawdry hedonism.  The result was that many hip hop aficionados who are weded to the commercial forms of the music rejected Electric Circus as not street enough.

“New Wave” nails the problem perfectly.  Produced by ?ueslove and James Poyser it calls out the hip hop performers who play the thug stereotype for money and juxtaposes a powerful syncopated hip hop beat with an airy, melodic segment sung by Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and asks “How could a nigger be so scared of change?”  Apparently the answer to that question is very easily as a segment of the hip hop audience ridiculed the track for Sadier’s contribution because she’s like, you know, white.  And French.  And it’s different.  “New Wave” is a terrific track and the melding of Sadier and hip hop is exquisite but it’s too far beyond the pale for the 50 Cent audience.  Closed ears are deaf.

Electric Circus has also been criticized for having too many guest artists which some think dilutes Common’s contribution.  In addition to Sadier, ?uestlove and Poyser the guests include Mary J. Blige, the Neptunes, Bilal, Sonny of P.O.D., Pharrell Williams, Cee-Lo and more.  I don’t know if all of these guests are a problem or not.  They contribute to the wide variety of music heard on Electric Circus and the album’s variety is one of the things I like about it.

Electric Circus is the kind of album you can listen to a hundred times and still discover bits and pieces you didn’t notice before.  It takes a long time to get old.  It also stands as a good example of how inventive and interesting hip hop can be.  In one sense hip hop is like just about every other kind of popular music.  Beneath the unimaginative and commercially successful crap there’s a wealth of exciting music.  Electric Circus is a good album to play for your friends who say they don’t like hip hop but who are capable of listening with open ears.


06/17/2008 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , ,

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