Just in case you thought they were too busy penning essays, pitching their life’s story, or being the house-band of late night TV, The Roots released their eleventh studio album, “And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” today. Continuing the concept of 2011’s “Undun”, which was like the Christopher Nolan version of “Good Times” with Redford Stevens as JJ; “ATYSYC” walks the philosophical path with each track exploring a different aspect of urban violence and hip-hop culture.
The Roots prove once again that they’re the masters of musicality, opening the album with “Theme From the Middle of the Night” by Nina Simone. The following track “Never” puts the album’s mood squarely in place, starting with ethereal chanting before Patty Crash serves “How I Got Over” vibes with her lofty vocals. Black Thought immediately gets to the root (no pun) of the matter, ostentatiously spitting Dylan Thomas quotes while articulating the frustration that cycles of poverty can produce.
Unlike “Undun”, “ATYSYC” doesn’t focus on metaphorical persona, but instead chooses to pursue eleven. “When the People Cheer” is told from the perspective of hip-hop culture. This time, the band is able to lament the negative effects of materialism, inebriation, and promiscuity that hip-hop music seems to glorify; while acknowledging the position most artists are in to provide the masses with gratifying entertainment. “Black Rock” examines the correlation between poverty, mental health issues and mis-education, and drug abuse. “Understand” presents a rhetorical debate about the relationships between religion, spirituality, and daily behavior patterns. “The Dark (Trinity)” rehashes the harsh reality of Blacks being treated as inferior regardless of status, class, and location”, a concept heard on previous Roots albums and that is pretty much the basis of the entire “Watch The Throne” album.
What makes “And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” standout is in the intangibles. This album was clearly crafted by veterans; people who understand the importance of storytelling, cohesive but spontaneous production, vivid lyricism, and structure. Take the album length for example, for some artists, twelve tracks is quite a long time to be preached to (however creatively) by anyone. “ATYSYC” clocks in under 45 minutes, as Black Thought is excellent at coming in, making his point, and moving on to the next subject with subtlety, and poise. A few tracks that may warrant the skip button are “Black Rock” due to it sounding like every member of the band is playing their respective instrument at the same time with no real awareness of one another. Another is “Dies Irae” which isn’t necessarily bad, as much as it is forgettable.
The Roots have once again accomplished the impossible, making an album that will satisfy music lovers, while still being enjoyable for those unaware or unaffected by social justice concerns. It’s definitely not the best Roots album I’ve ever heard, but it has potential for strong replay value, Twitter quotes, and late-night blasting thru Harmon speakers on the highway.
Best Tracks: “Understand”, “Never”, “The Dark (Trinity)”, “The Unraveling”