THE ROOTS

1월 5, 2012 at 9:21 오전
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By John Glynn

There is a real shortage of quality ‘eclectic’ Hip Hop groups. Why is there such a scarcity? Honestly, it probably has something to do with the absurdly high standard set by Philadelphia’s most renowned outfit. These talented individuals are recognized by many as the house band on Jimmy Fallon’s US talk show, but The Roots have been rocking out for years, combining a transcendent arrangement of old school Hip Hop, golden era jazz and blues. I feel that this group falls into an unfortunate category, a rather clichéd category; they just might be one of the most ‘underrated’ artists’ in musical history. The group has enjoyed real success thanks to their unique philosophy and beliefs, but worldwide adulation still seems unjustifiably elusive. In 1987, drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and fellow Philadelphia native Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter set the wheels in motion, making loyalty one of the group’s most endearing qualities. If this record is your first experience of The Roots, you are doing it all wrong. The band has been in the game for an eternity (in the music world), frequently altering their sound. Why have they frequently changed their approach? One would assume, it has something to do with maintaining a much-appreciated freshness. Nonetheless, virgins, you are in for a treat.
The Roots’ latest album, “Undun,” is framed not by flourishing bass lines — bass parts are infrequent — but by keyboards, often outstanding and delicate, something rather alien to modern day hip-hop. Existence and bereavement are entwined throughout, from the album’s opening sounds of a flat-line segueing into a heartbeat, to the final sound on the album of a tentative chord that sounds rather ominous. We are left pondering mortality and whether angelic bagpipes await those “born on the wrong side of the crack pipe”.
The band recently accompanied a Republican politician’s guest spot with the Fishbone song, “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” That kind of insolence isn’t among the ingredients of the Philadelphia collective’s first concept album. The concept is based on a character, Redford Stephens, who is faced with the austerity, restrictions, and mortality of street life. The Roots tell the story in reverse, opening with Redford’s death and backpedalling through the situations that encouraged his demise. The result is a remarkable display of inspired unity and a true masterpiece. It is an extremely dark and even sometimes morose offering, conveying Redford’s existence in life and death as preordained. A desperate man, he seemingly has no option, Redford must live the life which has been assigned to him: “Illegal activity controls/my black symphony/Orchestrated like it happened incidentally.” Anybody expecting a succession of three- to four-minute songs will be disappointed. The entire album comes in at just under 40 minutes, and only seven tracks stretch over the two and a half minute mark. Fear not, “Undun” offers so much — quite a few gems are presented, like “Make My” and “Tip the Scale.” These two tracks rank among the band’s finest moments. “Make My,” in particular, is a homespun serving of sincerity, touching on the various tribulations encountered in life. The melody is bittersweet at best, an almost deathbed reflection. There is an eerie vibe from the very start, the chorus reflects this initial feeling, “They told me that the ends would justify the means,” followed by, “Maybe I’ll throw in the towel.” There is a strangely resolved tone in the music, however this seems to allow dichotomy with the lyrics: “Addicted to the green/if I don’t ball I’ll get the shakes/I’d give it all for peace of mind for Heaven’s sake/My heart’s so heavy that the ropes that hold my casket break,” hinting at the release that may be obtained in their “departure from the world.” The track then closes out with a dramatic two minute instrumental coda, indicative of evocative transition.
“Tip the Scale” begins with a faultless drum intro from ?uestlove, this is followed up with Dice Raw’s stylish commentary: “A lot of niggas go to prison / how many come out Malcolm X / I know I’m not / Shit, can’t even talk about the rest,” adopting the protagonist’s persona, who at this point is in the midst of unrivaled adversity. The rest of “Undun” speaks through the instrumentals, where innocuous pianos and violins manage to elicit uncontrolled percussions that fade out; perhaps suggesting that Redford has died. “Sleep”, with its rather scant percussion and trunk-rattling bass, feels like a sobering, even numbing funeral song. Redford speaks from the grave. “There I go, from a man to a memory / I wonder if my family will remember me,”
Their distinctive tales about struggling by are told with that influential style of hostility mixed with an affectionate and embracing fineness. “Undun” focuses on life and death, along with the sinister realities of inner city life. We are given chilling accounts, messages that really resonate. This is a work of art in its most gorgeous form, and the obsessive attention to detail in the lyrics and music emphasize this. The Roots are known for their triumphant crossover endeavors and integrating an extensive array of genres into their art. This album is no exception; they have taken intense themes and topics, yet blended them deftly into an album that any true music fan will find extraordinary. While the album’s central character lived only a mere 25 years, the music here has the vigour to live a great deal longer. In “Undun,” the group has delivered its 13th effort to-date and quite possibly their finest masterpiece. It certainly is not an album for the faint hearted, nor is it an album for the one-dimensional Hip Hop enthusiast. Similar to The Roots accomplishment with Phrenology, this is a work to prove that they could do it, and that they are still very much relevant. The Roots still have that magical touch, the type of genius that generates a real buzz. Their latest album has received widespread praise, quite rightly so. Undoubtedly, The Roots are one of the greatest musical outfits in history. This is their magnum opus.

1 Comment

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