The Roots: How I Got Over


RIYL: Common, Mos Def, De La Soul

The most surprising aspect of the Roots’ excellent ninth studio album How I Got Over is not that it’s something of a downer. Looking at the band’s discography going all the way back to 2004’s The Tipping Point shows a group of guys in a bit of a bad mood, which continued through their next two albums, Game Theory and Rising Down. Their gig on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show, while presumably providing a steady paycheck, has not lightened them up, at least in terms of lyrics and message.

No, what hits you first on the new album is how laid-back and confident they sound while delivering the bad news. The Roots have always drawn on soul and other strands of black music to inform their brand of live instrument-based hip-hop, but this could almost be thought of as their folk album. Guest stars include not just fellow rappers such as Dice Raw, Truck North and P.O.R.N. (none of whom outshine the perpetually slept-on Black Thought), but artists decidedly outside hip-hop circles including Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom and the Dirty Projectors. How I Got Over may strike some listeners as a little too mellow at first, but on repeated listens this album is almost guaranteed to grow on you. Black Thought again lives up to his name, relying less on spitting “live rounds that will penetrate a vest” and more on insights that penetrate the mind. And while many of the songs seem like an attempt to catalog as many social ills as possible in rhymes, as the album goes on it picks up in terms of energy and mood. Things culminate with the almost feel-good anthem “The Fire,” an “Eye of the Tiger” for hip-hop heads. (In one of the album’s clever twists, “The Fire” is a collaboration with John Legend, and it follows “Doin’ It Again,” built on a John Legend sample.)

That’s followed up by the straight up ass-kicker “Web 20/20,” a welcome throwback to old-school Roots, and then the album ends with the slow-rolling “Hustla,” which breaks the world down into hustlers and customers. Not the most cheery thought in the world, but what do you want? These are the Roots. They only play happy on TV. (Def Jam 2010)

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