I can’t front. I haven’t been interested in an album from The Roots since 1999’s Things Fall Apart. It had cameos from some unlikely artists such as Eve, but old standbys Common and Mos Def came to represent, so it felt like business as usual. Rising Down represents a return for The Roots back to their hip hop roots, without the unfortunate rock departures that they have made since the turn of this century. While rock and roll is as much a part of our heritage as hip hop or blues, the departure from the norm they attempted on Phrenology, The Tipping Point, and Game Theory and even more recently their Fall Out Boy collaboration, just seemed way too much of wanting to push an envelope that just didn’t need to be pushed. On Rising Down, the gloom and doom are back along with Black Thought‘s monotonous delivery, but the beats are much more true to the sound we’ve come to expect from them: driving beats, sinewy synths, and unapologetic rhyme flows.
The first track (“The Pow Wow”) sets the tone for the overall album which features a telephone conversation between The Roots’ members and a record company executive whereby they are told they might want to leave and start their own record label if they want so much creative control. It all ends with much screaming and presumably moved furniture in the room. Yeah…warm and fuzzy this album is not.
About forty percent of this album has been released prior to the official drop date of April 29th, so I won’t focus on those songs, some of which include “Get Busy
,” “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)
,” and the go-go-ish “Rising Up
,” which knocks in the very dopest of ways. All of these songs are notably some of the best songs from this album by the way, so it was in The Roots’ best interest to use these as bait for their core fanbase prior to the release date.
Besides those songs mentioned above, standouts from this album include “Criminal,” features a nice alternative departure for The Roots, kind of in the vein of Portishead, Coldplay, or Radiohead. While the rhymes from Saigon and Truck North convey much discontent, it is much smoother than the Fall Out Boy collaboration of “Birthday Girl” which has been admitted by ?uestlove to be the obvious pop single that rubbed many fans (and this writer) the wrong way.
The Roots feat. Saigon & Truck North: “Criminal”
Another banger is “I Can’t Help It” featuring P.O.R.N. and Malik B. This song, like most others on this album is dark, angry, and political. Do yourself a favor and pay close attention to P.O.R.N.’s verse which conveys hopelessness in a way that is too much to ignore. The beat also switches up at the end rather nicely and helps to smooth out the despair you just heard just a little bit.
The Roots feat. Malik B & P.O.R.N.: “I
Can’t Help It ”
Another joint featuring P.O.R.N. and thus far the critics’ fave is Fela Kuti-inspired “I Will Not Apologize.” P.O.R.N.’s flow is very nice on the track and his sing-song flow is unexpected and welcomed at the same time. Talib delivers the hook with typical forceful aplomb.
The Roots feat. P.O.R.N. & Dice Raw: “I
Will Not Apologize”
Usual Roots’ collaborators Mos Def, who spits nicely on “Rising Up” by the way, and Common are, of course, present like roll call. Unfortunately, on “The Show” Common’s rhyme is not particularly outstanding and the song itself is not incredibly memorable.
The Roots feat. Common: “The Show”
Despite some minimal setbacks, Rising Down
really will be a welcome addition to your collection and will likely be an album you’ll bump in the coming months as both the temperature and your desire to nod your head increases. Much has been made that this is a very political album for The Roots, but after seven previous studio albums making light of the injustices and hypocrisy
that many of us fall victim to, this album falls right into step with much of their previous work.