The Roots have outdone themselves yet again with the release of undun, an expertly crafted concept album that reflects on the life and demise of the fictitious character Redford Stephens. Accompanied by a complementary (and complimentary) mobile application that gives the audience a bit of background on Redford's wayward ways, undun is the brave exploration of issues affecting those who live in the margins and the grim options they face down daily.
Stylistically, undun is the inverse of counterparts like Watch The
Throne -- there is no braggadocio from those living at the top of the
world, but rather the dissection of the gritty problems faced by one
man at the bottom. Helmed by the increasingly popular Questlove, the
soundscape of this project is made fresh by relying on something old --
a full band -- which allows Roots MC Black Thought and lyricists like
Phonte, Big K.R.I.T., Dice Raw, and Greg Porn to wax poetic over
original sonic masterpieces instead of samples.
Clocking in at 39 minutes, this album can be consumed whole and The Roots deftly cover an expanse of narrative in that slender amount of time. All of the tracks are dope but personal favorites include the single "Sleep," a dirge that knocks methodically in anticipation of Redford's eventual death, "One Time," a tense, swelling song that embodies the angst of a hustler's day to day life, and "Stomp," a dangerous missive detailing a man on the hunt. The end of the album eschews spoken words entirely and relies on piano and string compositions to tell the rest of Redford's story. Like Redford, the ending song "Finality (4th Movement)" starts with such hope, but swiftly ends with disturbingly dark and discordant notes.
undun is a reminder to those of us consumed with "first world" problems that there are people in America and around the world that are struggling. It also serves as a cautionary tale of the repercussions of wasting one's talent. At once haunting and beautiful, The Roots manage to tell the story of someone else's struggle without compromising the integrity of the music. Their unflinching view of life at the bottom is the main reason they are at the top of SoulBounce's list as our Album of the Year.