Hip-Hop’s live band, the Roots, returns with its staggering eighth (can you believe it?) full length studio album, titled Rising Down. The title could not have been more appropriate because over their illustrious career it almost seems like the better the situation gets for the Roots, the more things remains the same, or get worse.
    {mosimage}They’ve been making excellent music for the past oh, 15 years. The crew boasts Grammies, hundreds of sold-out shows across the world, classic albums and gold record sales, etc.; however, they are still largely overlooked by the mainstream public. The lead vocalist MC, Black Thought, is arguably one of the Top 10 rappers walking the planet. Musically, they are led by drummer/composer, Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, who with the band always delivers some jams that are hot if not unique to groove to.
    One of best aspects of the group has been that the vocals of Thought. The sounds of the band are always on the same page, neither one outshining the other to a large extent and this LP offers no exception. The heavy drums and aggressive bassline of Get Busy and the upbeat melodic tone of The Show with its pulsating drums show the Roots at its best. Not only is the music a feast for the ears but the sound quality is exceptional as well. Anyone who listens to music heavily often notices that no matter how great the music may be, if the sound quality (mixing, mastering) of the presentation is just “average,” it leaves the listener a bit unfulfilled. Because the production of the Roots is orchestrated by a live hip-hop band vs. the usual hip hop record where much of the sounds originate from a sampler or an MPC, most of the Roots records sound much better sonically then the usual.
    Lyrically, Thought is utterly peerless on Rising Down. He spits battle ready raps, he story tells, he provides social/political insight, and he gets personal, showcasing his versatility and range on each track. One of the unique qualities of Black Thought’s persona is the fact that he has been rapping for so long that he still sounds as hungry and as passionate as a new jack in the game and each track he spits on he sounds as if it will be his last. One of the first things many Roots fans will notice when picking up this CD is the abundance and the diversity of guests featured on the disc. Out of 14 tracks only two feature BT rocking for delf on the mic. The usual Roots family of Dice Raw and MLK B appear as well as the fellow backpack rappers such as Mos Delf and Tallinn Quell are featured. However, the Roots also look for help outside the usual gamut and enlists street hard rock Styles P, mix tape new jack Saigon and R&B songbird Chrisette Michelle as well as others. Many of the guests on the album strengthen the disc.
    The album kicks off with the title track featuring Thought, Mos Delf and Styles P. All rappers deliver quotable verses with a slow but moving beat provided by the band. The beat is very epic yet it is so minimal that it provides each MC to voice their social commentary and political views about the present world without being overshadowed by the music. Other highlights of the album include @15, which is a long lost a capella recording about one minute long featuring Black Thought rapping at the age of 15. One can only marvel at this track because in truth the teenage Thought’s delivery, vocal dexterity, and wordplay is better then most rappers nowadays that are adults. Immediately following is 75 Bars, where BT simply explodes over a minimal drum beat with an errant horn.
    As aforementioned, one of the weaknesses of the LP is the fact that Thought is such a great MC, that many of the songs the guest rappers simply don’t bring their A game and rather then riding shotgun with Thought they are simply asleep in the back seat. Tallinn Quell is also a brilliant rapper in his own right, but he comes up short on Lost Desire. The band provides an eerie moving rhythmic beat on Singing Man but the direction of the song is confusing and Mercedes Martinez gives the listeners a reason to press the fast forward button.
    Fortunately, a few of the guests actually make their own splash, as Common spits an exceptional verse on the aforementioned The Show, and Saigon gets deep on Criminal. The Roots save one of the best tracks for last on the album’s closer, Rising Up, featuring Wale and the aforementioned Chrisette Michelle. This track is not only hot because of the music, but with a closer listen it defines the integrity of the group and also gives us a deeper meaning about the state of hip-hop and music in general. This album is not perfection, but two or three duds out of 14 is definitely worth a trip to the record store. In fact, the group is so agitated that the album opens and closes with real conversations (not a skit, but actual arguing and cursing) between group members and their label about the marketing and promotion of their music, or lack thereof. Perhaps one day the Roots will finally get fed up with being underappreciated by the masses and hang it up.

Contact Jay Howard at editor@upandcomingweekly.com

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