Undun is a concept album which tells the story of a fictional character named “Redford Stephens”. It is similar in content to the movie “American Gangster” but features a fresh outlook and innovative production. I love the Roots because they rarely disappoint with their work. This time they’ve even took things up another level, delivering a hip-hop classic. This LP has everything you could possibly want from an album, the lyrics are insightful, the flows are on point and the music is nothing short of stunning. The bar has been set with this project for how hip-hop should sound in 2012 and beyond.
“Continue Reading After The Jump…” THE ROOTS
“Dun” opens with a flat line. Distorted noises and haunting piano chords gradually merge with a single beeping sound, whilst the screams of a man conclude the intro to the album. This unsettling and low key opening is a tool used to create an atmosphere that enhances the conceptual nature of the album. Aaron Livingston provides a poetic chorus for “Sleep”, which is complemented by Black Thoughts introspective rhymes. Lyrically, the piece deals with the death of one’s spirit and the loss of one’s humanity. The landscape created is that of confusion and somber reflection. “Undun” is a World of very little hope.
Light instrumentation continues on “Make My” featuring B.I.G. Krit & Dice Raw. The theme of failed ambition remains present, although the chilled guitar riff adds a funkier element than expected. It works, and you will find yourself singing along almost at first play. Dice Raw provides the chorus, and although he doesn’t possess the strongest singing voice, he delivers his part with real emotion and feeling. The potential of this track is enormous in that it’s catchy enough to cross over to radio, yet it stays true to a high artistic vision. It’s also an excellent choice for the first single.
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NOTE: All audio tracks are streaming only.
“One Time” is the strongest departure yet from the opening tracks. An electronic ambience mixes with foot tapping drums and Phonte’s chorus is a stand out moment on the LP. Dice Raw delivers my favourite verse in a long time: “I wonder when you die do you hear harps and bagpipes, if you were born on the other side of the crack pipe. Niggas learn math just to understand the crack price, then drive in head first like the jack knife.” The human element of criminal enterprise is seldom implemented as well as it is here. The words are so hard hitting you’ll find yourself sharing in the experience, whilst the social commentary cuts deep and underneath the surface.
“Kool On”, “The Otherside” and “Stomp” all feature Greg Porn and other talented artists such as Bilal. They serve to enhance the story of our lead character Redford. “Kool On” in particular feels like a party, but the lyrics allude to the temporary state of proceedings. “Stomp” is full of wild energy and cinematic guitar riffs, the chorus includes an inspiring rally to fight against all the odds. Each track maintains similar length and song structure, which is very important to the over all cohesive nature of the album. Certain key ingredients are present on every song: clever lyrics, gospel influenced singing and live instrumentation. There is even the use of choirs and ambient piano chords.
“Lighthouse” uses the analogy of drowning to describe the desperation of failure. “No one’s in the lighthouse, you’re face down in the ocean. And it seems like you just screamed, it’s no one there to hear the sound. It may feel like there’s no one there that cares if you drown”. Despite the song’s heavey subject matter, it stays clear of a drop in tempo. I love this song for it’s bravery in addressing serious issues. It’s got all the trademarks of what makes this album so enjoyable, a catchy chorus with a harrowing message, delivered with unapologetic truth.
[wpaudio url=”http://wordisbond.data.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/08.-Lighthouse-feat.-Dice-Raw.mp3″ text=”The Roots – Lighthouse Feat. Dice Raw” dl=”0″]
“I Remember” and “Tip The Scale” deal with reflection and rue the downfall of a crime empire. As the last hip-hop song on the album, “Tip The Scale” features the lyrics “Lots of niggas go to prison, how many come out Malcolm X? i know I’m not, can’t even talk about the rest. Famous last words – your under arrest. Will i get popped tonight? it’s anybody’s guess.” This song further demonstrates why Dice Raw will remain one of hip-hop’s biggest mysteries. As a solo artist, he’s yet to make the impact he’s capable of. Yet with The Roots, he’s an unstoppable force who speaks for an entire generation. The video is sure to build a buzz for the album through it’s superb cinematic production.
The remaining four tracks take an unexpected turn. “Redford”, “Possibility”, “Will To Power” and “Finality” are effectively classical pieces with no lyrics. At five minutes long collectively, they allow us to meditate on the lessons of the album. Chuck D once said, “hip-hop is our CNN”. I always found that statement to be a bit pretentious, but that was until I heard The Roots “Undun”. There is so much food for thought here that I would call for people to use it not just as music, but as an educational tool. Very few projects of any sort delve so deep into the motivation and realities of inner city crime. Like the great artists before them (Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley) The Roots succeed in doing so with astonishing clarity.
[easyreview title=”Word Is Bond Rating” cat1title=”Lyrics” cat1detail=”Black Thought and Dice Raw excel themselves with taught provoking lyricism and focus” cat1rating=”5″ cat2title=”Production” cat2detail=”A daring blend of genres that fit the emcees perfectly” cat2rating=”5″ cat3title=”Originality” cat3detail=”Soul music and raw hip-hop mixed with classical elements. Need I say more?” cat3rating=”5″ cat4title=”Replayability” cat4detail=”Certain songs on this album will come to define The Roots in future years” cat4rating=”4.5″ summary=”My personal pick for hip-hop album of the year”]