The Roots – Undun | Album Review

If there was a solitary reason for the lack of more ‘eclectic’ Hip Hop groups being present in today’s field, it probably would be because of the fear of living up to the ridiculously high standards set by Philadelphia’s legendary outfit The Roots. Black Thought, ?uestlove and co have been rocking out for almost two decades now with their sublime arrangement of true school Hip Hop, golden era jazz and blues. Even whilst often cited as one of the most ‘underrated’ groups in musical history, The Roots have consistently remained within the realms of many top five lists due to their staunch lyrical offerings and their dynamic live shows. Whilst currently the in-house band for US chat show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Undun is the 13th offering from The Roots but still creates the same tingles of anticipation as previous efforts; the hope now is that the same musical richness of the past carries over to this December release.

If there ever was a need for a Roots album, the current climate of anxiety, frustration and confusion makes for a setting worthy of a musical outlook from the group. Their trademark tales of the everyman’s trials of making ends meet are told with the pangs of toil and strife mixed with a warm and embracing aura. “Make My,” the first track released, is a home made slice of honesty and heart heavy burdens of life. Featuring southern star Big K.R.I.T, the XXL Freshman adds some southern hospitality to the Sunday evening-like sharing of woes which makes for a touching offering.

Revered wordsmith Black Through remains as potent with the verbal offerings as sticksman ?uestlove is on the drums – uttering tales hand woven for each unique production (constructed mainly by ?uest and more). The dreamy “Sleep” floats freely, with Thought’s insomnia-bordering rhymes making for an appeasing listen. Returning to the ferocious nature of his delivery “One Time” sees The Roots welcome Phonte and long term collaborator Dice Raw to punctuate the atmospheric production with bars emphasising the importance of capitalising on time.

As much as it is a rap album, Undun yet again dabbles in jazz, soul and more to thicken the audio servings and make for a filling consumption. The sublime mix of beats and guitars of “Kool On” channels a 1970s slickness, whereas the excellent “Lighthouse” merges together a downtrodden message about the breaking down of a friendship with a veneer polished instrumental from Sean C and LV.

Since day one, the maturity in The Roots’ sound has been present and Undun is no exception. Every one of the 14 tracks carries the feel of a unique live performance – from indulging in the bluesy sorrows of “I Remember” to the meticulous drumming patterns on the socio-conscious “Tip The Scale,” Undun is assured in its execution, never falling in trying new ideas and more.

The album concludes with a four track remake of Chicago’s singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens‘ “Redford (For Yia-Yia and Pappou).” “Redford,” “Possibility,” “Will To Power” and “Finality” are all minute long interludes which are performed with the tenderness and haunting qualities as the original from Stevens’ Michigan album.

There are very few flaws to point out on Undun and it’s hardly surprising. The group, often called upon when looking to justify Hip Hop’s musical credentials have seen many years go by and have aged remarkably, and on their 13th effort, show now sign of packing it in. If anything, some may argue that material sounds more like added tracks from last year’s How I Got Over album and doesn’t venture into new atmospheres.

But it’s no surprise that Undun along with Phonte’s Charity Starts At Home and Kendrick Lamar‘s Section.80 albums stand as some of the best of 2011. Their middle finger to the capitalist nature of today’s rappers, unreservedly putting spotlight on the ‘real’ within modern society is bleak, dark but crafted with enough warmth, depth and musical mastery to stand head and shoulders above the rest. The Roots still have the magic touch to generate buzz, applauds and praise for an album which truly captures the imposing aura of one of the greatest musical outfits in history.

The Roots – undun
Released: December 6, 2011
Label: Island Def Jam
Buy: iTunes UK / iTunes US / Amazon UK / Amazon US

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