The Roots, "How I Got Over" (Def Jam)
Finally, the Roots album we've been waiting for.
No offense to bandleader ?uestlove and emcee Black Thought -- both will be remembered as among the greats -- or any of the five CDs their fantastic rap band has released since the 1999 masterpiece "Things Fall Apart." But in this era of impatience, those five albums had too many skippable songs. Some tracks stuck to your ribs -- "Rolling With Heat," "Don't Say Nuthin," "Don't Feel Right" -- but it was easy to forget the albums they appeared on.
That's not the case with "How I Got Over." It's memorable as a whole, with a consistency that builds from track to track, the type of album where the songs hit harder in their intended sequence and context.
The Roots have released 11 albums since 1993, an incredible feat of longevity in the youth-obsessed rap game. ?uestlove recently wondered what's left to talk about "when the left digit in your age is the number four?"
Answer: The real world.
"How I Got Over" begins as a bleak, dystopian vision, full of disasters natural and self-inflicted. On "Dear God 2.0," a haunting collaboration with Monsters of Folk, Black Thought is at his lyrical best: "Haters separate us like we Siamese/ technology turning the planet into zombies/everybody all in everybody's dirty laundry/acid rain, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis/terrorists, crime sprees, assaults and robberies." The Gulf oil spill will probably make the remix.
"Radio Days" is next on this theme, with a catchy bass-vs.-falsetto hook and Thought's ruminations on self-destructive choices. Then comes "Now or Never," where Thought says he's "ready for the next chapter and page/ready to start acting my age/and part ways/with Black Thought from back in the days" -- an incredible confession for a culture built on keeping it real and staying, as the final words on Jay-Z's last album said, "forever young."
Maybe that's why Thought decides to sing -- sing! -- on the album's next song, the title track. There is no Autotune, just a man shedding his rap armor to expose his emotions and frustrations.
But life is a journey, and so is "How I Got Over." The gloom lifts halfway through on "The Day," where self-reflection creates good results, and some vintage battle rhymes come later. Musically, it's full of soulful pianos and ripe orchestration propelled by ?uestlove's boom-bap.
Many predicted the end of The Roots when they took a job as house band for silly Jimmy Fallon's late-night TV show. Perhaps that marked a new opportunity for the band to escape their inhuman touring schedule and focus on finally making a memorable, mature album worthy of their enormous talent.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Now or Never" is like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" rewritten by self-improvement advocate Bill Cosby.