On this day in Hip Hop history, Chicago rap icon Common released his fifth studio album Electric Circus. This album may have not been Common’s most commercially successful release, selling under 300,000 copies, but it was one of his most highly anticipated and critically acclaimed albums. Common is quoted saying he “wasn’t feeling Hip Hop” while making this album and such feelings toward the genre are what fueled his new eclectic sound that fused hip hop, pop, rock, electronic, and neo-soul music together to create an electric circus of sound.
The inspiration for this album came from artists like “Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix” according to Common. The production came heavily from a collective of musicians called The Soulquarians. This star-studded group of musicians was created during the recording of Common’s previous release Like Water for Chocolate and consisted of ?uestlove of The Roots, Jay Dee of Slum Village, keyboardist James Poyser, and bassist Pino Palladino. This live instrumentation helped to shape the new sound that was emphasized on this album. This project also featured some production from the late, great J Dilla and The Neptunes. Lyrically, Common stuck to his underground roots and dove into subjects that were previously uncharted in the industry. His subject matter throughout the album pushes social boundaries when touching on topics of sexual abuse, homophobia, and racial injustice much to the same tune as Like Water For Chocolate. Common also worked with an extremely talented and eclectic group of lyricists on this project; Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Cee-Lo Green, and Bilal.
This album came at a time in Hip Hop where there was a rise in neo-soul-influenced projects. Artists like OutKast, The Roots, Most Def, Goodie Mob, and Jay Electronica were the ones at the time pioneering a way for eclectic rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole to be able to be as popular as they are today. Electric Circus was one of those projects that were so outside the box that they allowed breathing room in Hip Hop and separated the genre from the club rocking hits that were coming out of the Dirty South and gangsta rap that was native to the West Coast. It helped make way for a refreshing sound in rap that is now prevalent in countless artists’ sounds.