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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