The Roots are a group that has made the most of the last two decades, comfortably in their niche, making well crafted pieces of poetic music. In 2011, they still offer incomparable pieces of art, especially considering, they are the only group in the genre that utilizes live instrumentation throughout their entire catalogue. MC Black Thought backed by acclaimed drummer ?uestlove, and the Roots collective, are effective with their first concept album.
The group’s tenth studio album “undun” is based on fictional character, Redford Stephens. The album takes a film-like approach by “undoing” the life of Stephens in reverse from his death to his birth.
The story of Stephens’ life is relatable to many different listeners, it speaks of struggling, being caught up with illegal temptation and the fatal effects. The album can serve as a warning sign of street hustling, and the many repercussions from living and being consumed in the life of crime. The life span of Stephens is only 25 years, but the each of the 14 tracks take a creative approach to detailing each period of his life. The instrumental sounds narrated by ?uestlove and the band gives the album a great variation of jazz, hip-hop, blues, rock and some bee-bop, with great authority and significance in less than 40 minutes. The last four tracks are purely instrumental, Sufjan Stevens’ “Michigan” sample is the first of the four-part sequence, then twisted, pulled, transformed and innovated into an introspective close to a classic album.
The album does have a good slate of features including long-time Roots collaborators Dice Raw, Truck North, Bilal and P.O.R.N. and Big K.R.I.T., Phonte, Aaron Livingston and even Just Blaze (mostly just making some political statements over “Stomp”) add some of their own mastery to bless their features. I would have preferred to hear a little more from Black Thought as he is the best story-teller on the album, but the presence of the others does not harm the transitioning of the album or the listening experience.
The only downfall to the album is the deep and chilling mood set by the lyrics and beats make it hard to consume each track on a random shuffle. The depth of “undun” is not to be expected in a club atmosphere or during a workout, so the versatility of the album doesn’t reach out to favourable repeat value, but nonetheless, this is a hip-hip classic and my pick for album of the 2011, thus far.
In a time where the rap industry is commandeered by artists like Audrey Graham, Malcolm McCormick and Brandon McCartney distorting the perception and foundation of the culture, this album does what it can to restore the fundamentals, storytelling and deep meaning. the use of solid melodies, percussive bass, and piano keys, give the album a conscious serious effect, that may wear thin on young listeners.
Mature males and females, with an appreciation for a good story, via movie or book, should take this album in. This is a breath of fresh air in a fourth quarter of 2011, where hip-hop has taken a softened approach for the worse.
Verdict: 46.5/50 (Classic)