So The Roots dropped their 13th album this week. Happened under the radar for me, as I haven’t had my ear to the music scene for several years now. The Tipping Point (2004) was the last of the crew’s projects I owned, and listened to from track one through; only getting flashes of Game Theory and Rising Down riding the Verazzano with my boy Ben, before being surprised with an even more sparse discovery of tracks from the How I Got Over and Wake Up! follow ups.
I quite literally woke up, washed, hopped on facebook and ran into a status update by poetess sister Ysabel that read something like: “OH MY FUCKING GOD THE ROOTS ARE BACK!”.
HuH??? (sprung from the mole hill)
My introduction to the dark opus came via a 9 minute video which narrates a compilation of the albums tracks into a short film directed by Hype Williams. I was only partly impressed.. but intrigued enough to further delve into the effort. I mean, this is a group that contributed to the foundation of the soul I identify mine today; I owe it to them. And boy am I glad I did.
The album’s cuts keep with the strong drum kicks that wave Quest.Love’s following hello, and it’s gloomy mood is laced with eery piano riffs that set well for the concept of “UNDUN”. It is a turn the group took with the Rising Down album; one which reflects an evolution of their signature soul blending a flirtation with the hard rock which presents itself even in the biker jacket clad style of the brother Black Thought over recent years.
Illadelph’s legendary emcee hasn’t lost a step. He remains an elite and largely slept on talent in our music, with a style that remains fresh despite it’s redundancy, since the flow’s maturation on the dated but forever classic Things Fall Apart. On this juncture motiffs rock between street morbidity ((“the heat of the day/ the long robe of muerte// that soul is in the atmosphere like airplay” – ‘Make My’)) and industry hustle. Thought has always figured a way to let us know he’s in the room with anyone else, while remaining humble. On the track ‘Kool On’ he raps:
“holding fast money without running out of patience/ move in silence without running up in places/ cake by the layers; rich but never famous/ hustle anonymous/ still remain nameless”
No doubt influenced by the legendary’s front man, the track includes like-hearted verses by the more lyrically intense Greg Porn and Truck North. Both finagle party and materialism with a hint of consciousness; sure to bring the braggadocios back to metaphors which use bling to adorn a celebration of the lyricism. “who needs a chain when every thought’s a jewel” Porn raps, before Truck North completes the collabo with a balance that goes places like: “serenade in a former slave prominade because those long days in the sun have now become shade.” Greg Porn returns later on as a virtuoso on ‘STOMP’; a single verse that plays prominent in Undun‘s 9 minute short film video. “Calico kisses, cold blood and crime tape/ flirt with death, everynight is a blind date” he riffs as the video’s protagonist carries on a blood wretched spree of violence.
Also featured on the disk are stellar parts from Little Brother’s Phonte and veteran Roots Crew affiliate Dice Raw. ‘Te Mic Check’s what is sure to jam the rewind button on revolutionary radios across the RBG nation, with: “feared in all streets/ so if you ever see me in yall streets find another one to occupy” while Dice waits in the wings to keep it straight for the legion: “I wonder when you die do you hear harps and bag pipes/ if you’re born on the other side of the crackpipe?”
Thought’s best lyrical showing comes on the crisp, Bilal Oliver assisted ‘The Otherside’. Vintage Black takes no prisoners, refraining to his battle eloquence with imagery that drags the savage through:
“Carrying cold blooded hearts, that never been for love/ Brothers keep going for theirs but never get enough// World travelers that seen it all and did enough/ only to return and learn the world wasn’t big enough// Damn, how long has it been, i guess the jig is up/ now all I know is I’m about to wake this nigga up..”
And when he isn’t adding miles to his trail of mics he is reminding us what sets our brothers apart from wordplay artists and jargonous emcees who’ve come and gone over the length of the group’s tenure. A soul searching, reflective, challenge to the destructive culture they’ve worked so brilliantly to remain in flux while trying to de-program the matrix with offerings like:
“A face in the glass/ unable to admit defeat// All that I am all that I was is history./// the past unravels adding insult to this injury” (SLEEP)
“I guess I’ll be refereed to the owners manual full of loaners/ full of all the homeless, throwaways and the stoners// soldiers of the streets with 8th grade diplomas” (TIP THE SCALE)
While there is nothing particularly innovative about UNDUN, it is without a doubt a treat for loyalists to the future hall of famers’ work. At the same time it is of the substance heavy yet digestible pedigree listeners who are just being introduced to the band (ala the Jimmy Fallon novice) can marvel over. Same old Roots style; with a new bag of goods. You know.. music that matters. Just how we like it.
4.25 / 5