The Roots – undun

January 01, 1970

(Def Jam)


Think what you may about The Roots’ controversial razz at
fading presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. But the fact that Philly’s finest
hip-hop crew, albeit orchestrated by drummer ?uestlove, had the awesome audacity
to diss the Tea Party witch with “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”, a song from the
first EP of legendary funk-punk underdogs Fishbone, just goes to show the depth
of musical knowledge at play within the ranks of this intrepid group, an
aptitude they take to tasteful task on their tenth proper LP and finest work
since Things Fall Apart.


Their debut foray into concept album territory, undun tells the existential tale of a
fictional composite of several real people named Redford Stephens (1974-1999)
dying in reverse.


undun is the
story of this kid who becomes criminal, but he wasn’t born criminal,” the
group states in the opening text to the short film they shot for
the new album. “…Just some kid who begins to order his world in a way
that makes the most sense to him at a given moment…”


It begins with the character’s acceptance of his fate on the
song “Sleep” and ends with a stirring four-song avant-classical-jazz
mini-suite centered around a cover of the Sufjan Stevens Michigan highlight “Redford (for Yia-Yia and Pappou)”,–featuring
the songwriter himself on piano–a tune that set the stage for the primary
impetus of the album itself. And in between these ends you get eight of The
Roots’ most challenging and soulful jams yet, tracks that don’t exactly
protract a concrete narrative of the events leading up to Stephens’ tragic end
as much as they do provide a sobering abstract alluding to the stream of
violent acts, inappropriate choices and stark moments of clarity in correlation
of the events leading up to his demise.


Roots purists who dig the Phrenology freak-out “Water” and their recent Dilla Joints tribute mixtape will no
doubt appreciate the artistic left turns on undun,
particularly the Sufjan suite as well as the Portishead-esque “I
Remember”. And the hip-hop heads can definitely get down with cuts like
“Make My” featuring Internet upstart Big K.R.I.T. and the album’s
hottest banger, “Kool On”, where Black Thought spits fire like
“I’m never sleeping like I’m on methamphetamines/ Move like my enemy 10
steps ahead of me.” Meanwhile, the real MVP of this record is once again
Dice Raw, who brought so much heat to such classic tracks as “The Lesson
Part 1” from Do You Want More?!!!??!, the Illadelph
gem “Clones” and the title track to 2009’s soulful
surprise How I Got Over in the past and does even more so on the likes
of “Lighthouse” and “Tip The Scale” here, continuing to flex
his skills as a singer (and a fine one at that).



The trick of trying to pull off a prank like playing a rude Fishbone
obscurity for the entrance music to Jimmy’s interview with Bachmann might not
have been the wisest form of decision making in the age of the Internet
know-it-all. But what this unwanted heat did bring forth was the free publicity
windfall that followed the shitstorm, casting more light on the release of this
excellent record that anyone who wants to hear the graceful way by which
hip-hop should age should add to their collections right away.


My,”,”Kool On,” the Redford




Leave a Reply