We were getting lost, once again, in the new, ridiculously great Erykah Badu album -- which also seems to be connecting with the people -- when we got a call from Questlove to come down and listen to the new Roots album at Battery Studios in NYC.
This is album number 10 for the guys, who are favorites of the Newsroom, but in this business it's easy to get cynical about something that's, well, consistent. We're always looking for the NEW, the NEXT. Truth be told, though, we were excited about getting to hear it, especially after seeing that video for the teaser single, "75 Bars (Reconstruction)", where they get all gangster on some poor, unsuspecting soul (likely, a music critic).
Keeping with the Project Runway theme for the week, the new album, Rising Down, is fierce. The beats are super-hard, with all kinds of warped bass and keyboard sounds, a little go-go (courtesy DC's Wale!), and you won't ever hear a better sounding hip-hop album than a Roots album.
Black Thought is a dense, heavyweight lyricist, and he stays true to form this time out. But he's more visual in his rhymes nowadays and peppers the album with a few different styles, like on the first single, "Birthday Girl," which feature's Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump.
But here's the thing...
What starts out as a dark, cynical album, morphs into a more uplifting joint by the end, and so maybe The Roots are losing a little bit of that chip on their shoulder. What will they do if they're not indignant anymore!? Last week, Questlove texted to say that he thought this was a four-and-a-half star record, "if beats and rhymes were the standard." He might be right.
Questlove wrote out a road-map of the new album on a legal pad with a Sharpie, indicating all the guest MCs on the album - Common, Wale, Malik B, Dice Raw, Talib Kweli, Peddi Crack, Mos Def, Saigon, et al.
Then he spoke at length about how this album feels like the end of a cycle for them, and how the next album (because he's always thinking about the next album) will most likely go back to the days of their freewheelin' Organix days.
Like my man, Butta, says, don't sleep on The Roots. One day when they're gone, you're gonna be really, really sad.
RISING DOWN Track List below.
Questlove annotation in (parentheses), and yes, we realize some of this might be a little too rap-nerd fan-boy:
· The Pow Wow [Intro] (The 1994 meeting between Black Thought, Questlove and former Roots manager, AJ Shine, after they got threatened with being dropped from their record label)
· Rising Down [with Mos Def and Styles P] (and Dice Raw on the hook)
· Get Busy [with Dice Raw & Peddi Crack & Jazzy Jeff]
· @ 15 (Tariq freestyle at 15 years old)
· 75 Bars (Reconstruction) [with Tuba Gooding Jr.]
· (Up Theme) Becoming Unwritten (instrumental)
· Criminal [with Truck North (a Philly MC bubbling under) & Saigon]
· I Will Not Apologize [with Porn (another Philly MC bubbling under) & Dice Raw & Talib Kweli (on the hook)]
· I Can't Help It [with Malik B & Porn] (This is Malik B's response to The Roots' song "Water")
· Singing Man [with Porn (as Virginia Tech-like Shooter) & Black Thought (as Sierra Leone youngin' soldier) & Truck North (as suicide bomber)]
· (Up Theme) Unwritten [with Mercedes Martinez]
· Lost Desire [with Malik B & Talib Kweli]
· The Show [with Common]
· Rising Up [with Wale & Chrissette Michelle] (p.s. Wale says "this is not a go-go song")
· Birthday Girl [with Patrick Stump]
· HIDDEN TRACK: Live at WPFW (Howard University), 1994
· HIDDEN TRACK: The Pow Wow 2 (end of the phone conversation)
[UPDATED: The Sucker Free blog has the new video for "Get Busy".