Deeper Roots

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G.D. is disappointed in the latest Roots effort:


I'm a die-hard when it comes to The Roots, and willing to be an apologist for them for their sonic sins mainly because those missteps are relatively few and far between. ("Pussy Galore," perhaps my least favorite Roots track of all time, still has a pretty dope beat; those 10-minute spoken word poems that used to be tucked in at the end of their albums are easily passable.) 

But even for an apologist like me, How I Got Over is pretty disappointing. There are a few highlights here, and about where you'd expect them to be. The album sounds a lot different than their last, the terrific Rising Down, and boasts a much more plaintive mood and with mellower hooks. Black Thought weirdly phones in a couple verses (notably the first one on "Dear God 2.0") but he's his usual, muscular, percussive, self ("Doin It Again.") But he takes a back seat on this album, as there's a guest MC on nearly every track. This isn't all bad since the Roots bench (Truck North, P.O.R.N., etc.) is solid and deep, and because Phonte, who guests on two songs, is creeping into that rarefied Andre 3000 space in which he steals and improves every track on which he appears. (There was also supposed to be a new collaboration with Cody Chestnutt on this album, but it's nowhere to be found.) 

 But on the other side, you have some new dude named STS, who has the most annoying hip-hop voice since Bootie Brown. He appears on "Right On" and "Hustla," two songs I hope to never hear again. Then there's "The Fire," which sounds like something The Rising Tied or a similar group would do, and one that probably makes the most sense if you're 16 and have a big wrestling tournament in an hour. It sounds like the music for a cheesy training montage. Coming into this album, The Roots had produced maybe three songs that i've absolutely hated over a nearly 20-year career. They've matched that total on this one album. 

One of the criticisms (or strengths, depending on whom you ask) is that so much of their music sounds better at their famously excellent stage shows. That'll undoubtedly be true here; peep their dope performance of "How I Got Over" on Jimmy Fallon, which has already become a staple of their live sets. Who knows, though? I wasn't blown away by The Tipping Point when it first dropped, but I'm a fan of it now. Maybe that'll be true here.

I saw The Roots like a hundred times in my D.C. years. I think I OD-ed on their live shows. I also thought their band was overrated, at least back then. I was a fan of ?uest's drumming, Rahzel and Scratch but not much more. Had I not been in D.C. it would have been different. But I just saw too many superb go-go bands to be overly impressed. 

That said, Black Thought is top-five for me...

Lyrically elicit, up steps the explicit, most wicked 
seven digit, Mic Wizard. My tongue lashes out and strikes with it. 
You slightly might miss it, when I blast through your section or district

I played Illadelph Halflife for an entire trip up from the Eastern Shore, while I was writing the book, the whole time thinking, "All I want is to do that. Exactly that." What a remarkable display of lyricism.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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