Thursday, July 1, 2010

Album Review: The Roots - How I Got Over

The Roots have been around. Their first studio album dropped in 1993, a year after I was born. Now for me, I've been listening to the roots for only about a year now, mainly to 1999's Things Fall Apart and what amazes me is how little these cats have been noticed. The critic community loves em', but as far as the average music listener is concerned, they're that one band with the drummer who has that afro and stuff, or even worse, the back-up band for fucking Jimmy Fallon. It's unfortunate, as The Roots have always seemed to be active in promoting a beautiful type of hip hop I wish would catch on; the kind that focuses on true lyrical content, sly beats, and a passion for honesty. These are things you don't find in radio hip-hop now-a-days, which focuses on club tracks with "ticks" and "booms" instead of interesting beat backing.

It's been 17 years since the release of their first album, and I'm very surprised to say, The Roots still got it. Their new album, How I Got Over is a definite change-up from their last album, Rising Down, which was claustrophobic, pent-up, and dark. How I Got Over to me feels more like when you stretch your legs on your bed toward the cool areas of the sheets for relief from the heat, it's airy, cool, and soothing in a way. The lyrical content is still there, full of cautionary wisdom of a life you've never lived, but at the same time, the contradictory beats and tone lead your mind toward a softer place, away from the problems mentioned in the album. This is the best thing I can say about How I Got Over, the album is a strange corral, it takes your mind off of The Bad of our world, but whispers it in your ear at the same time.

The album really doesn't kick off, as much as it slowly takes off, like an assistant levitating in a magic show, there's no big bang, just the act. "A Piece of Light", the first track, is just a vocal lead in, harmonies of "Do Do Do" are mixed with light keys to lead the listener into a smooth jive, which will hold for the spine of the rest of the album, as the smoothness hardly ever wavers. That leads into Walk Alone, a piano driven soul-hip-hop song that holds that smoothness. The new single "Dear God 2.0"features The Monsters Of Folk, a move that captures my love for the album. The Roots blew me away with the tenacity to try and mix artists like Monsters of Folk and Joanna Newsom into their message conscious hip-hop. I know that part of me just likes it because they are up my alley in the folk area, but at the same time, it's more entrancing because they work. "Right On" is my favorite track on the album, part of that reason is because it samples "The Book of Right-On" by Joanna, but at the same time, it's my favorite because it's so smooth and perfect to me, in mixing and lyrical work, that I had to add it to my "Top Hip-hop tracks" playlist on my iPod.

Another favorite is "The Day", a beauty of a track featuring the smooth rhymes by Blu and Phonte, but my favorite addition is Patty Crash lightly singing "I should start living today/ because today's gonna be the day". There are two tracks on the album featuring John Legend, and when I first saw that on the track listing, I was worried, but the beauty of it is, he fits in just as nicely as Common did on older albums. His smooth, soothing voice that even my Mother loves is perfect for this album, and the fact that The Roots knew that he would work wonderfully is why they must be one of the smartest hip-hop acts around.

If you've skipped all the bullshit I've written just to see what I gave the album, you'd know I have some problem with it. How I Got Over is a surprisingly great album, definitely one of my new favorites of the year, but my problem comes from how the album decides to end. We spend the whole album jiving to the light, smoothnessity of How I Got Over, and then, on the last two tracks, we get punched in the face with two harshly contrasting songs, "Web 20/20" and "Hustla", which feel simply out of place. It's like we've spent 40 minutes soaring on a nimbus cloud above war-torn Iraq to have an RPG shoot us down right before we decide to land. The beats are strong and the lyrics are harsh not only in content, but in delivery. I suppose this was The Roots' way of ripping us back into the reality of the issues, but, it would have been more polite to do this at the beginning of the album, saving me from having to finish in a mood that asks "Why'd you have to go and do that?" It isn't a big deal, just something that leaves the bad taste in my mouth I thought I wouldn't have to worry about.

Basically, How I Got Over is a gem. It's an album worthy of summer, perfect for a cool backyard party or an afternoon fuck, it's smooth and works perfect as a backdrop for nothing to happen. At the same time, the album works beautifully at the forefront of the mind, something I was skeptical about when I first read about it. In essence, How I Got Over is what you need, without you ever knowing you needed it. Album Rating : 9.0/10
-Matt Galey

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