The Roots Step Up With ‘Rising Down’


I can't front. I haven't been interested in an album from The Roots since 1999's Things Fall Apart. It had cameos from some unlikely artists such as Eve, but old standbys Common and Mos Def came to represent, so it felt like business as usual. Rising Down represents a return for The Roots back to their hip hop roots, without the unfortunate rock departures that they have made since the turn of this century. While rock and roll is as much a part of our heritage as hip hop or blues, the departure from the norm they attempted on Phrenology, The Tipping Point, and Game Theory and even more recently their Fall Out Boy collaboration, just seemed way too much of wanting to push an envelope that just didn't need to be pushed. On Rising Down, the gloom and doom are back along with Black Thought's monotonous delivery, but the beats are much more true to the sound we've come to expect from them: driving beats, sinewy synths, and unapologetic rhyme flows. 

The first track ("The Pow Wow") sets the tone for the overall album which features a telephone conversation between The Roots' members and a record company executive whereby they are told they might want to leave and start their own record label if they want so much creative control. It all ends with much screaming and presumably moved furniture in the room. Yeah...warm and fuzzy this album is not. 

About forty percent of this album has been released prior to the official drop date of April 29th, so I won't focus on those songs, some of which include "Get Busy," "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)," and the go-go-ish "Rising Up," which knocks in the very dopest of ways. All of these songs are notably some of the best songs from this album by the way, so it was in The Roots' best interest to use these as bait for their core fanbase prior to the release date.
Besides those songs mentioned above, standouts from this album include "Criminal," features a nice alternative departure for The Roots, kind of in the vein of Portishead, Coldplay, or Radiohead. While the rhymes from Saigon and Truck North convey much discontent, it is much smoother than the Fall Out Boy collaboration of "Birthday Girl" which has been admitted by ?uestlove to be the obvious pop single that rubbed many fans (and this writer) the wrong way. 
The Roots feat. Saigon & Truck North: "Criminal" 

Another banger is "I Can't Help It" featuring P.O.R.N. and Malik B. This song, like most others on this album is dark, angry, and political. Do yourself a favor and pay close attention to P.O.R.N.'s verse which conveys hopelessness in a way that is too much to ignore. The beat also switches up at the end rather nicely and helps to smooth out the despair you just heard just a little bit.  
The Roots feat. Malik B & P.O.R.N.: "I
Can't Help It "

Another joint featuring P.O.R.N. and thus far the critics' fave is Fela Kuti-inspired "I Will Not Apologize." P.O.R.N.'s flow is very nice on the track and his sing-song flow is unexpected and welcomed at the same time. Talib delivers the hook with typical forceful aplomb. 
The Roots feat. P.O.R.N. & Dice Raw: "I
Will Not Apologize"

Usual Roots' collaborators Mos Def, who spits nicely on "Rising Up" by the way, and Common are, of course, present like roll call. Unfortunately, on "The Show" Common's rhyme is not particularly outstanding and the song itself is not incredibly memorable. 
The Roots feat. Common: "The Show"

Despite some minimal setbacks, Rising Down really will be a welcome addition to your collection and will likely be an album you'll bump in the coming months as both the temperature and your desire to nod your head increases. Much has been made that this is a very political album for The Roots, but after seven previous studio albums making light of the injustices and hypocrisy that many of us fall victim to, this album falls right into step with much of their previous work.  
The Roots: Rising Down [Amazon] [iTunes]

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10 Responses

  1. I really like "Game Theory". I think you should give a second listen to songs like "Long Time", "Game Theory", "In The Music" & "Livin in A New World".

    • Phrenology was dope as hell. I have the others, but aside from "Game Theory" the song, I'm not pressed. I bought this new one too and it's taking me a minute to get into.

  2. Yeh... I like Game Theory too. I can see skipping over The Tipping Point. But I'm a completist. Got just about everything.. except those 2 best of's.
    This isn't a "happy" or "upbeat" CD. It's gonna be a tough (low) sell.
    "Infinitely go against the grain" as BT said...

  3. another fan of game theory here. i thought it was much improved from phrenology and the tipping point, but i liked those too. as well as this one. i was pleasantly surprised when it arrived a day early, gotta love preordering from okp.
    i like how "political" and serious rising down is. glad they left birthday girl off, it just wouldn't have fit. and love the cover art. but they've always killed it with covers.
    jonesin for questo's lengthy liner notes though...

    • Ok, gotta touch Game Theory now.
      To me "Long Time" is one of the best Roots songs in their whole catalog. A lot of it has to do with the instrumentation and the fact that I'm just a music whore like that. It's like classic rock Sly & The Family Stone with Clyde Stubblefield... and then Larry Gold's strings?!? Who else in hip-hop could pull off some arena rock shit? And Thought and Peedi rip it of course.
      My other faves on that record are Here I Come (did anyone happen to witness this carnage?), Clock With No Hands (for those who always say Black Thought's content is one-dimensional) and the tear-jerking Can't Stop This.

  4. i liked game theory as well ("in the music" a departure from their hip hop roots?...please) and albeit phrenology asked some listeners to be a bit more open but i appreciated the effort simply for the sake of creativity rather than sitting in the same mold. half the artists we know and love in soul music and hip hop couldn't even get a deal today thanks to the lane we ask black artists to stay in...but i digress.
    digging the new record as well, definitely glad they left birthday girl off.
    and i truly love this site.

  5. I also wanted to put in my vote for Game Theory, I thought it was the best hip hop album to drop in years.

    • I never understood the disdain for The Tipping Point and Phrenology.
      Actually, it aggravates me when those albums are criticized for straying too far from hip-hop. How can it get any more hip-hop than:
      "Thought @ Work"
      "Rolling With Heat"
      "Rhymes and Ammo"
      "Guns are Drawn"
      "Stay Cool"
      "Web" AND MUHFUGGIN' "Boom"!!!!!!!
      If it weren't for the knock out combo of "Act Too: Love of My Life", "Dynamite" and "Next Movement" on TFA, Phrenology would be my favorite Roots album... even over DYWM?!!?
      Ill Mami, what Roots are you (not) listening to?
      Fortunately this comment stream has Game Theory love so I don't need to belabor the point.

  6. I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE!!!! that is my joint.. I LOVE THE ROOTS!!!! I love every cd they have put out over the years.... You def have to be on a certain wave to get them...

    • Man, I love The Roots, but their last few albums have been lackluster, at best. Rising Down, however, is my favorite album from them yet.


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