Dec 3, 2011

[REVIEW] The Roots: UNDUN

RATING: 10/10 CHET BAKERS 

The Roots continue to prove that they are the most consistent music group out there.  Even some of their older albums that were perhaps not as good as we might have liked, were still leaps and bounds better than seemingly 80% of the other music out there.

Last year I reviewed their album How I Got Over and gave it a 9/10 rating.  If not for a single track that I wasn't feeling ("Hustla") it would have gotten a perfect 10. In my time of doing reviews on here I've only given three albums a perfect rating.  The Roots'  collaboration with John Legend "Wake Up", Hidden Beach Unwrapped Volume 1 and "The Carnivale" by Wyclef Jean, which remains today one of my top 10 albums that I've ever heard in my life.

Today The Roots get the fourth perfect rating (and second album to get that that they are involved with).   I've been a fan of the Roots for a long time, having come to them via D'Angelo who is my favorite artist.   I heard some collaborations that he had done with them in some live recordings that I have and was just hooked.

Here you have a rap group that's an actual BAND.  They play their instruments, and they play them well.   It's not often you come across a hip hop band, but the Roots have been putting it down for hip hop in a serious way for years now and show no signs of creative drop off.

Never more clear than on their newest album "UnDun" which in a first for the legendary Roots Crew, is a concept album.  Undun chronicles the life and death of Redford Stephens who embraces some bad choices in his life and ends up paying the ultimate price for it, and tells said story in reverse.

The album begins with his dying and works it's way back to the beginning of the story -- the end of the album.  Clocking in at just a shade under 40 minutes it's a fairly short album, however it's an amazing piece of work that seems to alternate between being staggeringly beautiful and hauntingly depressing at various points throughout.

One thing that I loved about How I Got Over was their utilizing feature appearances by artists that many perhaps would not have heard, who listen to the Roots regularly.  Artists like The Dirty Projectors, Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsome and STS.

This album also features some of these indie rock artists and once again I'm kind of blown away by the incredible sound that has been made with the Roots collaborating with these artists.

In fact one of my favorite tracks on here is "Sleep" which features a singer named Aaron Livingston.  I have never heard him before, but he has a line in there that when I heard it I just sat back in awe, dumbstruck by the implications of it and the very idea of it. 

Something so seemingly simple, and yet complex and deep at the same time.  One of those things you'll end up thinking about later after you've put the album away to go to sleep yourself.

I love the idea behind this concept album. The idea of chronicling a man who for lack of a bad choices might have ended up with a whole different (and perhaps much longer) life, and made it out of the environment that he found himself trapped in.

I've thought back before to mistakes I've made, decisions I've made and how it influenced my life and how it impacted my ending up in the very room I sit right now writing this review.

If I had done things differently, would I be here right now?  Would I have ended up in another state?  Perhaps gone to college, got a helluva job?  Met someone, settled down, had kids, and the stereotypical American Dream?

Or was I always destined to end up where I'm at now?  I thought about that as I listened to Undun, because it made me wonder whether Redford was doomed from the beginning.  Whether his ending was predetermined from jump street and that he realized that and simply embraced what he felt was his destiny.

It's definitely an interesting conversation piece, I think.  And that, ultimately, is what separates The Roots from your average hip hop artists out there.  The Roots stay coming correct with their intelligent and introspective works, while many others tend to focus on more materialistic gains.

Unfortunately too many people would rather Watch The Throne, rather than get their heads into some real solid intelligent hip hop music.  And that's sad, but unfortunately a part of life.

As the album ends, it has it's final piece, a cover of singer Sufjan Stevens' song Redford, split into four "movements", and tell the "beginning" of Stephen's life. 

The first part is Sufjan himself on the piano, followed by a string quartet interpreting the song.  After that you have Roots' drummer Questlove and pianist D.D. Jackson going to work, and then the final movement, which actually tells the beginning of Redford Stephen's life.

As I'm listening right now to the final four tracks that form this sort of orchestral movement it's absolutely stunningly beautiful!  I mean I've read online where there were some who heard the album and didn't like the final four tracks and felt that it would have been better ending on the 10th track.

I think those who feel this way are missing the whole idea of a concept album, and how every piece fits.  Every piece tells a part of the story.  Every piece serves a purpose.  And personally, I actually thought I'd be moved to tears by the 12th track "Possibility".  It was amazing in a way that words can't express.

To sum up, this is yet again, another potentially classic album by a group that we've come to expect excellence from.  However just because we have grown to expect this type of brilliance, doesn't negate or diminish the quality of this album.

If you like good hip hop music, if you like good MUSIC period, you need to do yourself a favor and pick this up! 

The Roots "UnDun" is available everywhere on December 6th 2011.





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