The Roots: Rising Down

By: Greg Gargiulo

In a time when the world stands on a precarious precipice, surrounded by crisis and controversy, heated debate and multi-faceted friction, The Roots couldn't get any more aptly topical with their latest release, Rising Down (released April 29 on Def Jam), accurately capturing both the harsh truths and their unsettling effects on our reality. Quite possibly their darkest effort to date, Rising Down - The Roots' eighth studio album and second with Def Jam - paints a picture of a troubling, Gotham City-like society where terror reigns in every corner and the only unstoppable force is a fully human voice and the will to use it.

With more than 15 years of experience under their belt, The Roots have learned how to meticulously employ their distinct voice with the accompaniment of versatile instrumentalism and complex rhythms. To further execute their mission, they're joined for this ride by an impressive ensemble that includes Common, Talib Kweli, Dice Raw and Malik B..

Throwing overcast skies overhead, the title track laces a rugged beat and eerie guitar with verses centered on present observations and an ominous foretelling of what's to come. The inauspicious tones are carried throughout nearly the entire album, continuing with "I Can't Help It," laden with heavy tom drums from ?uestlove and keys that could be a sounding alarm. The final minute unexpectedly transitions to soothing woodwinds and strumming harp while the beat still bounces, serving as one of the few instances of sunshine breaking through the clouds. Though the subject matter of "Criminal" juxtaposes the music dramatically, analyzing the usage of the very term and explaining certain lifestyle choices, its rare acoustic guitars and soft melody beautifully deliver a bit of calmness amidst the general craziness.

"75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)," aside from being the only track devoid of any guest vocalists, is also The Roots in their rawest form: no chorus, no breakdown, just Black Thought spitting bar after bar of the kind of carefully-carved lyrics he has so consistently concocted throughout his career. Though the abundance of guest appearances comes off as un-Roots-like at first glance, the troupe eventually reveals itself as an integral component of this work, conjoining like-minded musicians in a unified verbal fight to stay afloat (or perhaps safe from the Jersey Devil-esque creature that wreaks havoc on the LP's cover).

Inverting the order of William T. Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on violence, freedom and urgent means, from which the album's title is taken, "Rising Up" closes up shop with another revival of earlier Roots. The free-flowing movements of jazzy keyboards, funky drums and lighter lyrics end things in a classic Roots style, more fun and celebratory than most other cuts. Black Thought concludes the guided tour by promoting perseverance as the key to The Roots' longevity as the most continually innovative act in hip-hop.

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[Published on: 5/7/08]

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Comments

matthau Wed 5/7/2008 01:11PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This album, is dark, idiosyncratic, and bumpin'! I think it is a unique Roots album, and one of their finest. I dig the departure from the Fender Rhoades on this album...the heavy synth sound is RIGHT for this production. I liked the album right off the bat, but it takes some peeps a little time to get it...so be patient, it is worth it.

Randle starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/7/2008 01:47PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Randle

I'm looking forward to checking this out...pretty cool how they've been naming albums after books and running w/ the themes.

STEG187 starstarstarstar Wed 5/7/2008 05:27PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

STEG187

as a roots fan I am disappointed that this factual error slipped thru the cracks:

Dice Raw and Malik B. 's second appearance with the band since his untimely departure after '96's Illadelph Halflife.

Dice has appeared on every roots album except Phrenology, and Malik appeared all over Things Fall Apart and Game theory.

Not a bad review, otherwise.

Conjugal Burning starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/8/2008 08:38AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Conjugal Burning

cant wait to hear it! I also heard live they've been jammin out "Con Safo," a tasty little volta jam

pdids Sun 5/11/2008 07:20PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

pdids

I agree, with STEG, Malik B was one of the founding members of the Roots (then the Square Roots). Also, no mention of Mos Def? He spits the very first verse of the entire CD and absolutely kills it. Great CD, good review.