'Electric' Recharges Common's Career

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Success can be fickle, especially for an artist who thrives on artistic integrity. Common hopes to balance recent commercial success with his evolving artistry on his latest set, "Electric Circus," released Dec. 10 via MCA.

His MCA debut, 2000's "Like Water for Chocolate," sold more than 700,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album was also Common's first Recording Industry Association of America-certified gold set (for U.S. shipments of 500,000 copies) and earned him a Grammy Award nomination. But Common's goal is not to best his previous efforts commercially, but artistically.

"I wanted to try to do something fresh-to not repeat what I had done before," says Common. "I wanted to expand upon what I had already done. I don't feel the pressures of success but rather the pressure of trying to top creatively what I've already done. I also wanted to create something that would transport people to another place than what they're used to getting in hip-hop."

In an effort to create something fresh, Common collaborated with a host of artists and producers, including rock group P.O.D., Jill Scott, producer Jay Dee, and Erykah Badu, among others.

"I love to work with people I really admire and get inspired by," Common says. "The artists I chose are people who not only inspire me, but they mean something to the world. From the Neptunes changing the face of modern music to Cee-Lo bringing the message, to Stereolab bringing free music that is unrestricted to Prince, who has been both a genius and a revolutionary at what he's done. All those people are people I honor and respect. They're all touching this Earth with something special.

"They are some of the best producers and musicians in this day and age," he adds of his work with the Neptunes. "I knew people probably wouldn't expect me to work with them, but I expected it because they're fresh. I don't stay away from people because they're popular. It has to be something that touches me for me to work with them, whether [they are] popular or just starting out. There has to be something I can connect with. I knew they could create something for me that would fit me perfectly."

The fruits of that union are already paying dividends in lead single "Come Close to Me" featuring Mary J. Blige. "I had a 50-something-year-old man come up to me in the grocery store yesterday and say, 'That new song you got out is good,'" Common says about the single that is currently No. 31 in its sixth week on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. "One of my friend's daughters, who is almost 2, gets up every morning wanting to play 'Come Close.' The response has been beautiful. The video has also been getting a lot of love. This is the most people have ever approached me about a video, saying they dug it."

Common has made a handful of live appearances over the past week, and plans to return to the road with the Roots in late January.

Common has his own expectations for "Electric Circus." But he hopes, first and foremost, that fans enjoy and appreciate the music. "I want people to say that this album makes them feel good," he says. "I want them to feel like this is something fresh."

Excerpted from the Dec.21, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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