There’s a simple reason why after a decade in the game, Common is still a factor-he’s still in love with H.E.R. (Hip Hop) It doesn’t matter how much she’s changed (“looking for cheese that don’t make her a hood rat”) his love is unconditional. She’s gotten bigger, but he appreciates H.E.R. fullness. And as time has passed, she’s been exposed to nearly everyone, but it isn’t H.E.R. modesty that he admires, it’s H.E.R. consistent ability to be anything to anyone at any given time. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where you can have a conversation about him without at least mentioning H.E.R. Common is undeniably sprung-and their relationship is as beautiful and powerful as ever.

His latest album, Electric Circus is appropriate not only because it was recorded in Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Electric Lady Studios, but because it is filled with “circus” acts–artists that often defy comparison, that are eclectic and unique, yet undeniably captivating; from Prince to Bilal, James Poyser, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, Common pulled together the best to contribute to what is arguably his most liberated album to date. He’s quick to say that “free artists” influence him, performers like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, and in that respect, he creates music that “comes from the heart.”

“The rhythms we deal with are fresh and new,” he says in reference to his highly anticipated release. “It’s something that I can’t describe it words. I don’t wanna label it ‘rock’ cause it’s not rock; it’s music and it’s a fusion of different things and elements of music. Hopefully it will describe itself when you hear it, and you won’t even feel like ‘damn this is one thing,’ you’ll just know it’s under the hip-hop umbrella.”

It’s obvious that Common has indeed expanded musically on this album, and the growth suits him well. His first single, “Come Close” featuring Mary J. Blige and produced by the incredibly versatile Neptunes doesn’t even begin to skim the surface of what the project has to offer, yet is a solid representation of the new sense of liberation Common is experiencing. Rapping slowly over a calm mid-tempo track, Common delivers a smooth spoken word-ish rhyme that one can only assume is dedicated to Erykah Badu.

“It’s stronger than love,” he says in reference to their relationship. “It’s just a good relationship, a beautiful vibe, ya know, that God created.” Still, don’t expect them to go all Ashford & Simpson, although he does admit that the prospect of a tour would be cool. They already proved that they have a good connection on wax with the underground hit, “All Night Long” on One Day It’ll All Make Sense and with their current smash, “Love of My Life,” which is a female version of his classic, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”

In fact, Brown Sugar, the movie that the song was recorded for, was based loosely on Common’s metaphorical comparison of hip-hop and relationships. He says he got chills when he saw Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs reciting his rhyme in one scene. Sitting back to back on a park bench, rehashing old times, Lathan somewhat goofily rapped the lines of the hip-hop classic with Diggs: “I met this girl when I was 10 years old, and what I loved most was she had so much soul”

Common grins, his eyes lighting up as he remembers the moment he saw it. “I was like, dag, I wrote this at the crib and now they sayin’ my rhyme in a movie.”

With the way that his sound has evolved, Common has found himself the focal point of many conversations as of late, many of them aided by the musical appearance of the ever elusive King of Purple, Mr. Paisley Park himself.

“Come on man, this dude is one of the greatest songwriters producers, composers, musicians that exist during this time and space,” he says with a small head shake. Clearly he’s still tripping off the idea of Prince contributing to his project. “Having him even listen to my project was just like, yo, I felt good. That’s a blessing, that’s something I’m gonna look back on like, ‘man, I had Prince on my album.'”

If that collabo isn’t a lucid illustration of Common’s fresh musical sense, the content certainly is. Longtime fans won’t be disappointed; Common remains incredibly lyrical on tracks like “Soul Power”-“Rappers is wack, you had a dope track, I guess opposites attract” and keeps his witty antics in full swing throughout the rest of the project. Yet, his maturity is evident, especially on “Between Me You & Liberation,” featuring Cee-Lo where he touches on a taboo hip-hop subject, homosexuality. He admits that the situation he poses is hypothetical, but stresses the importance of individual freedom, however it may be acquired.

“I try to take my music wherever it directs me. I want my music to be free,” he says with an intense gaze. His voice is laced with emotion and his eyes glow as he speaks. “When you play Jimi Hendrix or when you play Stevie Wonder or when you play Jungle Brothers, I want you to be able to play my album too and feel that feeling of ‘damn this is from the heart.’ Not pick it up and say, ‘yeah, that was a single because of this.’ Sometimes when you listen to music, you just feel it cause the artist felt it, and that’s the kind I want to produce.” Mission accomplished.