Have you ever been in an argument with one of your friends about the state of hip-hop? There are so many questions that come into play that leave people with very few answers: Has popular hip-hop disintegrated to a bunch of dudes swapping stories about the women they slept with or the bullets they took? Has hip-hop become so watered down that friendly taunts build up into unnecessary wars? How could you call something music when the artists don’t even compose all of it?
And for about 15 years, the best possible answer to all these questions has remained the same.
Listen to the Roots.
For all the flak hip-hop as a genre has gotten from pretentious music fans, the Legendary Roots Crew has kept its brand hallowed and unmistakable. Combining something from practically everything you can think of while staying very much true to its hip-hop roots, this Philadelphia product has brought together innumerable musical communities. With nothing left to prove except that it’s still on top, the group rolls out with “Rising Down,” a dark collection leaving with frustration and release.
The record starts off giving fans a glimpse of the realities of the music industry. A heated argument between the band members about the nuisance of a record label meets the tipping point, and ends abruptly, giving some food for thought.
Before you can get too distracted, the album kicks off with a soft guitar and Mos Def making his contribution to the album. Right when it seems pretty, “Get Busy” brings you back into the dirt. A nasty bassline powered through by Questlove’s menacing drums brings Black Thought on the mic focus, and he unleashes. DJ Jazzy Jeff even lends a helping hand on the turntables. Aggressive and raw, this is sure to be a hit with the hip-hop fans aching for it. After a fast intermission highlighting a minute-long freestyle, the crunch returns once more, with “75 Bars.” Thought smirks, “I got news for y’all / Let me show you how the ball / See the legendary fall / I ain’t heard of that.”
After another quick sample, “Criminal” bridges the hip-hop/alternative gap. The song starts off like many post-rock songs, with beautiful guitars playing off of each other. Saigon and Truck North make guest appearances here, trading off between a restrained chorus and confessional rhymes in the verses.
“I Will Not Apologize” is propelled by a simple riff that highlights the lyrics. Dice Raw, a frequent collaborator with The Roots, returns to flow smoothly in and out of the verses. “I Can’t Help It” contrasts that subtle track with a trembling backdrop that adds a sense of urgency into every word. The middle of the song is filled with such mastery of figurative language that you’ll doubt your own understanding of it.
Truck North returns to push “Singing Man” with a pressing uneasiness, with the choruses filled with beautiful vocals in the chorus reminiscent of a Mo-town record. From haunting to cheery, the song transitions directly into “Unwritten,” with Mercedez Martinez lending a female touch. “Lost Desire” comes next with a return of aggression, with guest appearances from Talib Kweli and Maik B.
Questlove marches “The Show” on and Common brings another collaboration to The Roots discography and the familiar fuzzy bass guides him along. “Rising Up” is filled with upbeat feelings, from a variety of percussions to Chrisett Michelle relieving any stress with her soothing voice. The last hidden track starts off with freestyle only to be silenced until another conversation about The Roots and its record label situation closes the album on an interesting note, sure to have many fans questioning the music industry’s integrity.
The Roots have been through it all in its career, including bringing hip-hop back into relevance around the music community. But the relevance in hip-hop was never about recognition; it’s about the poetry, creativity and expressing your personality. The Roots embody all these ideals, and “Rising Down” is another highlight. For a group that has supposedly done it all, it continues to find a way to rise higher and higher.
Filed Under: A & E