Album Review: The Roots – how i got over

by Dakin Hardwick on June 30, 2010

The Roots have had an unheard of career trajectory for the hip-hop world. They quietly came onto the scene in 1993 with an organic form of hip hop that was created entirely with live instruments, and were often thrown in with the jazz/rap fusion acts like A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets. Although they didn’t reach the same level of success as those two acts, they were definitely one of the most determined acts in hip hop, touring non-stop, which is rare in hip-hop, and eventually became one of the most revered live acts in the country. They managed to build a following the old fashioned way, and have managed to become a little more successful with every passing year.

Fast forward to 2010, and The Roots are practically a household name, with several hit singles under their belt at this point as well as an extremely high profile gig as the house band in Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Their latest record, how i got over, might be the record to finish that process off, and become that household name.

The album opens up with a chilling dose of female vocalizing, courtesy of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle, better known as the ladies of Dirty Projectors. These singers are amazing, and the only use of the band comes from subtle coloring by drummer ?uestlove and keyboardist Kamal Gray. This minute-and-half sets the tone for the first half of the record, which is a group of very dark and subtle songs.

This stretch of songs, “Walk Alone”, “Dear God 2.0”, “Radio Daze”, and “Now Or Never” are designed to be played together. We have four songs that are roughly the same tempo, written in the same key, and each song gets a little more pessimistic. Taken with the last release by the band, Rising Down, one might believe that the chief lyricist and vocalist of the group is going through some very, very tough times. These songs aren’t political, they are very personal, and come from a very difficult place. They are all excellent, with the possible exception of “Dear God 2.0”, which is an interpolation of Monsters Of Folk’s “Dear God,” and it doesn’t add much new to the song. It almost felt like they were looking to shoehorn the indie rock supergroup into the record, and it’s totally unnecessary, especially next to three very potent songs.

Side 1, as I will consider this first half of the record, ends with the title track, “How I Got Over,” a classic soul rave up that seals up the side nicely. This track is littered with genuine optimism, and might be some of the best lyric writing in the history of the band.

Side 2 opens with another brief track, this one called “Dillatude: The Flight Of Titus”. It’s 30 seconds of mellow grooving, inspired by the great J. Dilla. It also kicks off what is practically a whole new record. These songs aren’t dark travels into the soul of a man in trouble. These are hip hop songs. And good ones at that. “The Day” has a killer flute hook over a solid groove that is impossible to not nod your head to. It’s part jazzy like classic Roots, but doesn’t feel dated in one bit. The next track, “Right On,” kicks the BPM up a notch and opens with Joanna Newsom’s distinct voice being used in a way that it’s never been used before. I think hip-hop might be the right career move for her, because her voice suites the beat very well.

Instead of working like side 1, where every song bleeds into the other, each track on this side has very separate from the one before. They are all bangers, and each song has a harder beat than the last. The John Legend-featuring “The Fire” does everything in its power to help Legend shake his reputation as the most mellow man in R&B. There is a pure anger in this track, and most of that comes from Legend’s singing. This song is a universe away from “Ordinary People.”

The album closes with two of the stranger songs off the record, tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on the band’s 2002 psychedelic masterpiece Phrenology. “Web 20/20” is a track is so schizophrenic, it sounds more like an early Beck track or something by Canadian hip-hop experimentalists Bran Van 3000, which jumps you into the record’s closing piece “Hustla,” a random barrage of words and kazoo that is hooky as an ABBA song, but sounds nothing like anything prior.

The Roots have struck gold with this one, with a wonderful piece of work that actually works like a classic 12″ record. Even it’s length (42:31) suits the classic album format. This one is will be around for years.

Songs to Download:  “How I Got Over”, “The Fire”, and “Web 20/20”

Song to Skip when Shuffling:  “Dear God 2.0” (Put on “The Seed 2.0” from Phrenology instead)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

casey July 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm

great review, i was really impressed by this album!

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