Blog 104: The History Behind The Circus
Current mood: accomplished
Common should be enjoying the fruits of his labor with his newest release Finding Forever. i think this will be his first number one pop album. its been a long time coming from him.
i decided to focus on an album that reflected a dark time for him.....
the newest issue of XXL magazine states that perhaps the publication was a lil too hasty in awarding Common's Be a "classic" rating. Not that i agree with a "classic rating" or not (i personally prefer that "close but no cigar" almost perfect and a 1/2 rating, that way your work wont be scrutinized in a jealous manner by your peers, but it still indicates that it is indeed a cut above the rest)....being as though that was the first review in many reviews ive read on post Electric Circus Common---i pretty much knew what i was in for: because the expectations were so low for him at the time, the fact that he managed to make an album that wouldn't alienate his contemporaries was seen a a damn miracle. not to mention the fact that the stupid notion that his then girlfriend Erykah was run/ruining his life through his music was damn near a laughable riot for if ANY runs Common's world....its Common.
a very shrewd smart businessman when it comes to decisions and the direction of where his career is going to go this week. don't get it twisted.
i came to his hometown in chicago for the weekend (lollipolooza) and a friend of mine slid me some long forgotten outtakes from the much dreaded/praised Electric Circus period.
besides Dangelo's Voodoo, i'll say that my second favorite project from the 1996-2003 Electric Lady Studio period was the Electric Circus album. i decided to share 4 of the outtakes with you.
The reasoning behind the albums experimental nature was simple: most saw the inhabitants of the Electric Lady period (Voodoo, Things Fall Apart, Mama's Gun, First Born Second, Black On Both Sides, REflection Eternal, Quality, Phrenology, Like Water For Chocolate, Worldwide Underground, Everybody's Got Their Something, Aijuswannasing, and many many others were created, nurtured, born, recorded, mixed, edited here during the 96-03 season) as the leaders of the left to center world. it took a good 4 years for the world to take notice, but once they took notice it was like "what are we going to do with it?"--the turning point started after the 2000 release of Dangleo's Voodoo and its encore album LWFC from our subject matter. The atmosphere was "we are going to try and push each other". all 3 studios had some sorta vibe to it: Dangleo/Common/Erykah took the master bedroom of studio A ;Com (for vocals)/Mos/and one time Soulquarian production cats would take studio B (Nikka, Bilal, Musiq); and Kweli and Mos loved the C room upstairs.
If Fela was the spirit over Like Water For Chocolate....then i would say Shuggie Otis' Inspiration Information was the spirit over Electric Circus---despite the rock overtones.
The 4 SONGS on my front Page
number one (working title: The Selma Hyjak)
ill say the main players for the entire album are James Poyser (keys and synths), J Dilla (drums, keys, synth, programming, bass), Pino Pallidino (bass, guitar) and Me on drums and percussion occasionally jeff lee johnson would come and bless us with his guitar playing.
James Poyser (a diehard Thrust and Sunlight student---go brush up on your Herbie 70s material youngins) was DYING for a reason to break out his dust filled Vocoder. i remember the day we did this we also had just cut EC's "Between You And Me And Liberation", and "Heaven Somewhere". i think a magazine was lying around cause all James was saying in his microphone was "hey dont you wanna? hey salma heyek?"---we were all cracking up while recording this one. Dilla was on Sleigh Bells, and Pino was on bass. i remember Com telling me we needed some fast energetic shit that would make him jump around onstage. So the "Selma" song was born.
number two (working title: The Dark)
this was called "the Dark" for obvious reasons: we were trying to find the happy medium of a single and experimentation (this was months before we threw our hands in the air and asked the neptunes for assistance) the rhythm machine you hear on this track was a 70s staple in the work of Sly Stone, Norman Whitfield, and Shuggie Otis. I believe its owner was my engineer (then the assistant engineer) Crazy Steve. Dilla had sampled its nosies and programmed this rhythm. I drummed along to this afterwards and then James and Pino added their instruments. i remember Com frowning on the use of the piano for he felt it didn't feel "cutting edge" enough. Our good friend, Director Nzingah Stewert would dub Com "the king of "NO!!!!!!" for he would shoot an idea down way before you got to develop it.---the same way i shot down "The Light" before i heard the entire song some 2 years back. at least now he'd give us a half hour of effing around before he barked "go to something else". i think in my head i was going for Primo---i tuned my drums low and the piano line took me to the piano demos Primo did for LWFC's "6th Sense"---we almost had Com hooked for we processed and filtered and even strummed the open piano strings like a guitar (strrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrum!!!!!!") but alas he dismissed it as "too normal"
number three (working title: Show For Ro (Step Into The Ro)
ahhh women. without em there would be no muse. there is nothing like a beautiful woman in a studio to show off your gifts. the greatest story ive ever heard was Marvin Gaye freestyling his political anthem "(Come On People) Let's Get It On" into the version we now know and love (about sex) once he laid eyes on his then 17 year old future wife Jan (legend has it that after struggling with the vocals for days he was about to give up when producer Ed Townsend's lady friend and her daughter (jan) came by to visit Ed....Marv was so taken aback by Jan's beauty he started showing off --much to the shock and chagrin of Ed who was seconds away from "the hell are you doing?" button stopping--but of course all the struggle Marv had with the political version of "Lets Get It On" went out the window once he had inspiration to sing to....and the very version we know now is said to be a one take freestyle.---well sometimes this method could work and or backfire---dangleo would freeze up the music if a girl came by the studio, for him the final product was a better presentation than "the getting there" part. it takes a confident person to let you see all the flaws the recording process takes. Com on the other hand thrived on female energy to get our juices flowing. So it was often encouraged for me to always invite my friends down to hang just to get some new energy. one said friend at the time was rosario dawson. she was at the screening and afterparty for her josie and the pussycats project and i told her to come by since she was already in the area. this of course was visual comedy for everyone involved---suddenly mofos are tucking in shirts, and throwing away 10 day old food on the counter, cleaning dirty fingernails (jokes)---but most importantly we were playing.
of all the songs in our arsenal....this is the jam that can describe a great day at the lady. just the swirl intro of the keys as the music creeps in was the soundtrack to our going home after a long night of work: usually we'd leave round 7am ---sun is out, and this is what is playing on the car stereo.
of course the king of "no!!" was singing me (in a quiet manner as to not embarrass us in front of mz dawson) my own creation from the roots "things fall apart" ("step into the realm you bound to get caught....." which was basically his nice guy way of saying "no sloppy seconds mofo....gimme my own shit!"---i still love this song.
song 4 (working title: The Electric Circus
prince took a liking to common in mid 2000, and let com use his studio while he was away on tour. he also agreeed to play some music as well. we took this opportunity to fulfill a lifetime fantasy: recording at paisley park. by this point P had pretty much shipped all his vintage gear from his classic period to the basement.---the same gear i begged engineer femi jiya to dust off and let me have a go at. we made this song shortly before "star 69" on EC--but because it sounded too much like a prince song....we thought it would deter him from contributing to the album so we passed.---but come interlude time i couldn't hold back and still put it on the album.
so there it is. 4 cuts from a long long time ago. im still holding my breath in which someone will properly place the EC project in the light it deserves. of course a hip hop publication run by middle class blacks (which is suspect enough) will scoff at such a notion as an art record---for the myth of "the streets" (when is the last time "the streets" brought shit?) would prove to be too risky in cosigning an album in which said mc confronts his homophobia, drug use, and marriage in less than an hour. not to mention mca going belly up 3 months after the album release halted all promotion on the project. which provides a very good alley oops shot for future common projects.
of course as executive producer of both Chocolate and Circus im too close to these projects and anyone's half ass dismissal of this work gets my ire---but more than that i want people to see the entire scope from where we were coming from in 2001:
a bunch of cats looking to push the limits of music as we saw it fit.
bring them kudos back.....aint like i be blogging for my health and shit.....