There will never be another group like The Roots. In an industry that’s currently cycling through new artists quicker than Weezy going through a bottle of syrup, Philly’s finest have somehow managed to develop a constantly evolving musical mission that has earned them a following willing to wait in line to buy their albums. Speaking of which, tomorrow The Legendary Roots Crew will drop their eighth studio album, the archaically titled Rising Down. While Rising certainly doesn’t sound like anything they’ve done before, it will still likely be received by the world populace in a …
DJBooth Album Review
It’s become increasingly rare for a hip-hop album to consist of a theme any more coherent than a simple collection of singles, but Rising Down carries with it a mission statement that can be summed up in one line; the world’s f**ked up, and the future’s not looking bright either. This is easily The Roots darkest album to date, full of brooding bass lines and densely layered synths that could be the soundtrack to the day after the apocalypse. This catalog of destruction style is nothing new, it first reared its awesome head on Phrenology, but Rising Down reaches new depths, and new heights. The title track Rising Down marches to the beat of ?uestlove’s always precise drum work, kept company only by a minimalistic guitar line and electronic static. More importantly, Rising Down features the blazing Mos Def verse we’ve been waiting – and waiting - for, along with tight lyrical work from Styles P (who spends his bars blasting the money-hungry pharmaceutical industry). The cumulative effect isn’t breathtaking by itself, but taken in context it’s a powerful warning for what’s to come.
What’s to come is a barrage of somber production and street poetics that find the always provocative Roots at their most political. On the pounding Lost Desire, Blackthought reflects on Philadephia’s tragically violent streets, spitting, “your funeral they have your 12th grade portrait, pretty corpse and casket, bell shaped orchids.” Similairly, Criminal’s country-music tinged sound sets the stage for Thought to tell the story of a lifelong hustler on the verge of collapse; "Till I’m put up in handcuffs and pissin in cups, if there’s a God I don’t know if he’s listenin or what.” The album’s not all doom and gloom, Chrisette Michelle and Wale help offer the antidote on the celebratory Rising Up, but beneath even Rising Up’s surface level shine is an undercurrent of mourning and loss. Rising Up's message is someday we’ll reach the promised land, but that day is not today.
If Rising Down is remembered for anything besides its call to arms message, it will be as the Roots album with an artist list the size of Step Up 2. Blackthought spends an almost shocking amount of time with the mic to himself, most notably going solo on 75 Bars, an unforgiving lyrical barrage that shows once again that Blackthought is the MC for MCs who love the art of MCing (follow that?). But for better or worse nearly every other track is stuffed with alternate rhymers. On the worse side, Common’s contribution to the strangely forgettable The Show is disappointingly flat, and do we really need three songs featuring a man named Porn? But on the better side Dice Raw contributes three verses that will have long time Roots fans reminiscing on the days he was part of the crew, Talib Kweli is lyrically defiant on I Will Not Apologize, and Peedi Crack crushes expectations by dropping one of album’s best verses on Get Busy. So why so many guests? I don’t know, and I wish I didn’t have to ask.
Critics often make the mistake of judging albums on a one size fits all scale, but they should ultimately be measured by how well they accomplish their particular musical mission. I’m not going to criticize Omarion and Bow Wow for ignoring the war in Iraq, and I refuse to subtract points from Rising Down simply because it doesn’t have enough hot joints. This is not music meant to spark a party, this is music meant to spark a fire somewhere inside you, and on that level it deserves some serious rotation on your headphones - lord knows it’s not going to get rotation anywhere else. Which means that the fate of Rising Down is entirely in your hands, where it belongs.
Listen to More: The Roots Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)" (2008)
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