Electric Circus

Common recorded much of his fifth album at Electric Lady, the downtown Manhattan studio Jimi Hendrix built, and you can hear Hendrix's psychedelic spirit seep under the boho rapper's skin. Electric Circus is a wild, vibrant trip billowing with purple-haze guitars, ethereal choruses and warped scratching. Common's familiar nasal rasp and thoughtful rhymes are in place, but producers James Poyser, Jay Dee, the Roots' ?uestlove and the Neptunes freak the beats in all sorts of unexpected directions. "Electric Wire Hustler Flower" roars like Judgment Day, all screeching winds and infernal howls, and "New Wave" pairs foreboding keys with the wispy vocals of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier. And for the irrepressibly celebratory "I Am Music," soulstress Jill Scott and Common bust a jitterbug over Dixieland horns. Somehow, Common makes it all fly, breaking hip-hop rules with a freewheeling fearlessness worthy of his guitar-god muse.

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