For more than two decades, 13 albums, countless live shows, and their latest gig as the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, The Roots seem to have the perfect formula for longevity and prominence. The are definitely a North Star of sorts for any group of artists in the wide spectrum of the music industry looking for such. This impressive body of work will do nothing short of become even more vast and notarized as the years progress. The band continues to offer some of the best music hip hop has ever seen, with the release of their latest album “undun” – but, are we seeing the The Roots slowly becoming much bigger than hip hop?
The album hosts a collection of songs that are woven together (starting with death) as sort of a modern-urban opera, about a young drug runner named Redford Stephens, who ultimately meets his demise after a short and violent life. The bandss founders, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, wrote a story about a fictional character over the course of the album, to symbolize how the young lead short lives when they choose a destructive path.
When the album starts, you’re immediately inserted into a kind of purgatory, where you hear the cries of a newborn child, and church organs with some breathy vocal overtones that undoubtedly signify the end of the character’s, Redford Stephens, life with the intro *dun*. The track *sleep* is more of an acceptance of his his impending death, while *Make My* is his acknowledgment that the end of his life is drawing near, due to his actions, and path he’s chosen. *One Time* is more of a boasting of toughness due to the aggravation of his life, from lack of a better situation, or luck. *Kool On* is the where Stephens’ celebrates his fate, and *The OtherSide* is where he declares that since he doesn’t have what he feels he deserves, he’s gonna get it on his own, one way or the other. The track *Stomp* is his motivation, and oppositely, *Lighthouse* is the description of the helplessness he is feeling. The remembrance of how Stephens’ was before he ultimately fell into darkness is projected in *I Remember*, and in the final vocal offering of the album, *Tip The Scale*, we feel the desperation of a young man who’s fate is sealed, and the realization of what must be done to give himself what he believes is his best means of survival. “undun” more or less seems like a story i which the reasons for a man’s actions seem more saddening than his death.
The album also contains four orchestral movements that follow *Tip The Scale*. The Sufjan Stevens composed *Redford (For Yia-Yia Pappou)* is the first piece in which the rest build-off and conclude from. Personally I’m unknowing of the purpose of these compositions, but perhaps maybe they serve as a non-vocal account to the character in the story?
The Roots never disappoint when it comes to production, instrumentation, and song writing, and how could they with not only one of the best emcees to bless the mic, but a world class drummer? Each and every track’s vocal arrangement is impeccable, and it should be, because “?uestlove” says the project was subject to numerous revisions before the album was concluded. Black Thought’s deep thought and heavy pen are extremely prominent, and felt as he narrates the plight of young Redford Stephens, either solo or with the lyrical accompaniment of a fellow artist. Perhaps one of the best used features is Dice Raw. (an early contributor to the band’s success). Not only are his rhyming moments on the album excellent, but his crooning, on the tracks *One Time* featuring Phonte of Little Brother and *Lighthouse* are definitely memorable and reminiscent of the work he did on the “How I Got Over album.” “undun”, also features frequent collaborators Greg Porn and Truck North, who made their debut with the band on the 2008 album “Rising Down”, southern up and comer Big K.R.I.T. and soul singer extraordinaire, and frequent J Dilla collaborator Bilal Oliver. A feature list that is not too shabby. As far as the musicality of the album, you can expect that it’s on point; come on… Over two decades of doing music in live instrumentation format you can only expect that what they do gets better with every release. They’ve impressively done it again with “undun”.
To say the album is a masterpiece, or extraordinary, is too easy because it’s what we’ve come to expect from The Roots band time and time again. However, to say one’s expectations will be validated upon first to 1,000th listen, makes a lot more sense. No group currently in the scope of hip hop works harder in delivering a product that is not only acceptable to said hip hop community, but the broad music community as a whole. The Roots ARE music, simply put… And “undun” is their current message to the world. Listen, learn, and reflect.