Artist: The Roots
Released: December 2, 2011
When The Roots became the house band for Jimmy Fallon, there was a sense of resignation amongst their fans. It seemed like Legendary Roots Crew of old had finally thrown in the towel and decided to cash in while they still could. Undun, their tenth studio album, is a loud, defiant denial of any such accusation of complacency. It is an ambitious project, a concept album told in reverse, but masterfully executed and possibly The Roots best work in their long, illustrious careers. The album revolves around the story of Redford Stevens, a fictional black man, who grows up in difficult circumstances and is forced into a life of crime which ultimately claims his life. If the story itself seems fairly bland and overdone, its telling is elegantly handled with Black Thought’s natural affinity for allegory and metaphor elevating the story from a simple account of events to a far more impactful exploration of the reasons and regrets behind the character’s decisions. He is accompanied by well-known guest artists like Phonte and Big K.R.I.T but the real stars of the show are QuestLove and Captain Kirk along with the rest of the Roots’ instrumentalists who give the album an incredibly beautiful, melancholic background to accompany the tragedy of Stevens’ life.
Perhaps the biggest criticism that can be levelled against such an album is the complexity of its core concept. The story told backwards is not really a new concept in hip-hop though the way it is told her makes it easy to lose track of the story itself. Strangely enough, this actually tends to happen because of the album’s musical excellence – it’s so easy to get lost in the individual songs that it’s hard to pay attention to the bigger picture. Lyrically, Black Thought brings some of his best verses here which is unsurprising given that the album very basis is perfect for letting him deliver complex rhymes and metaphorical allusions. It would be fair to say that he tells the story of Stevens almost singlehandedly. He is, of course, aided in his vocal work by the likes of Dice Raw, Bilal, Big K.R.I.T and Greg Porn who each contribute solid verses and hooks of their own. Special mention has to go to Greg Porn whose verses blend very well with Black Thoughts and provide a perfect counter-balance to the raw energy of former’s verses – in fact, it is Porn’s verses in ‘The OtherSide’ and ‘Stomp’ that really stand out, high praise given how good Black Thought’s own preceding verses on those tracks were.
Musically, the album is almost untouchable. There is a good mix of slow, melancholy and slightly more active, hard-hitting beats and there are certainly elements of neo-soul and indie music incorporated into the album’s overall sound though it’s a little harder to identify which tracks best exemplify that. If there is any criticism to be made of the album’s production it would be that the second half of the album loses steam rather quickly. The first half of the album ends on a deceptively peppy note in ‘Lighthouse’, a track which is actually a lot more unhappy than its sound would imply, but after that the album slows down considerably with slower paced, depressive tracks like ‘Tip the Scale’ and ‘I Remember’ before the extended instrumental outro. The outro, while musically sound, seems like a somewhat anticlimactic end (or start, depending on how you look at it) to Stevens’ story.
The album is considered by some fans to be The Roots’ magnum opus and it isn’t hard to see why. With great verses and beautiful production, it’s as close to a perfect album that fans can agree on. It is not however, an easy listen – this is not an album you can throw on at any time of the day and expect to fully appreciate. This is an album for a more serious hip-hop aficionado, the listener who listens closely and pays close attention to the lyrics and the sound. Anything less and the whole point of the album will tend to be lost between the strengths of the individual tracks.
|Tip The Scale||Questlove||3.8|
|Will To Power||Questlove||3.0|