What If Common Released ‘Electric Circus’ Today?

Common’s Electric Circus began much like its predecessor Like Water for Chocolate, with easygoing melodies that set a tone for the music to follow. But unlike Chocolate, which dabbled in spacious rhythms and J Dilla’s percussive boom-bap, Electric Circus was a far-reaching journey through electro-pop (“New Wave”), bebop (“I Am Music”) and psych-rock (“Jimi Was A Rock Star”).

The results were divisive. While some critics lauded Common’s ambition, especially since his previous album was such a commercial success, others chastised him and blamed the MC’s then-girlfriend Erykah Badu for the recording’s sharp creative shift. This week marks the 10-year anniversary of Electric Circus’ release. Hive spoke with Common about the album’s creative process, its initial reception, and its legacy a decade later.

What was your creative process going into the Electric Circus sessions, given the commercial success of Like Water for Chocolate two years prior?

My process was like, “Let’s do something fresh. Let’s do something new.” I just really wanted to push the envelope.

“In 2012, it definitely would’ve been more accepted and more understood.”

I was challenging myself creatively, so it started with me connecting with J Dilla, ?uestlove and James Poyser. We had [bassist] Pino Palladino there. It was really just saying to them, “Man, let’s do some other stuff.” We were going to the Fender Rhodes. We were using keyboards that you’d hear Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin working with. I was listening to Stereolab, Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix, so I was more like, “Yo, let me create something different, nothing that feels like anything that was done on Like Water for Chocolate. Let’s not even use some of those instruments.” I just really wanted it to have a fresh sound.

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