The Legendary Roots Crew are called that for a reason. You know, these cats didn’t really have to prove it to anyone, but they did: they’re much bigger than hip-hop. The Roots have always been the unique light that shone from within hip-hop, the ones whose solidarity as a musical unit profoundly demonstrates that hip-hop holds a much greater power than its humble beginnings of MC’s and a DJ. The Roots as a band, intentionally or unintentionally, represent the struggle of real musicians & artists to stick together through whatever may come, seeming to remain friends and collaborators against all odds. People who know and love their music revere them with great reason; with their new album,How I Got Over, they have created one of 2010’s best albums and one which (I think) we will talk about for a long time.
What I love now (and always have) about The Roots is that at their core, they purport themselves as they actually are, as the most sincere and serious of music fans. Creating and playing isn’t just a job (though they understand the necessity of treating it as a job) — they are decidedly inclusive of the influence of artists and musicians whom they recognize as real and never shy away from it. They are consummate performers and creators, their image and music stressing the group’s unwritten formula of brotherhood as a blueprint to young people who might seek to have a life and career in music. At the same time, The Roots crew don’t hold themselves above their fan base. They embrace their fan base, treating them as part and parcel, wanting to give back constantly and, with this album, even asked fans to submit questions for the band to answer as part of the liner notes.
The code of the streets speak through their words and motions; an unraveled heritage of musical pride and intense anger juxtaposed with fearless reverence can be heard in every track on How I Got Over. These tracks come across to me as a very personal expression about growing up feeling trapped within the ghettos of the mind, the daily collective and individual search within ourselves to unleash even the simple desire to want to do what is necessary to attain a better life. Black Thought’s verses and flows are as sharp and solid, brazen in a way that eschews familiarity. Across every song on the album, listeners will discover a series of on-point guest verses from skilled MC’s like STS, Phonte, Dice Raw, Peedi Peedi, and Truck North on various tracks. ?uestlove’s scholarly and unflappable percussion adds symmetry and power to the poetry, highlighting the bleak backdrops with hopeful reverie. The song “The Fire”, a collabo with John Legend, is seamlessly executed, strengthening the album’s core dynamics, rounding out a resonating message of hope even in recognition of what it’s like to actually live in the struggle rather than to just spit verses about it. The vocal contributions of Yim Yames on “Dear God” are plaintive bottled soul, and as with most of the collabos on this album, the track leaves it’s mark on listeners, begging dialogue from people about what is unspoken, what they often consider quietly to themselves but fear to vocalize lest they be judged. There’s clearly inherent mutual respect in the artistry between collaborators that is laced throughout this record.
At the same time, How I Got Over seems to me a musical thank you note penned to (among others) Curtis Mayfield, Norman Whitfield and Roy Ayers. The time signatures and sounds are all there, demonstrating both gratitude and a directional move within the framework these men invented.
Through repeated listenings, I now firmly believe How I Got Over is an album by which the quality of other albums should be judged and which (much like albums made by the artists who influenced it) we will be listening to ten, twenty, forty years from now, calling it an important document of the times in which we lived and what was possible when collaborations between hip-hop artists and indie artists shaped constructive explorations in music.
The Roots – Right On (feat. Joanna Newsom & STS) by loudersoft
[PURCHASE:How I Got Over – The Roots from iTunes]