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Undun

The Roots: Undun

  • The Roots
  • R&B & Hip-Hop
  • Out now
  • Def Jam
  • Everywhere
reviewed by
Haisam Awad
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The Roots: Undun

Viewers of OSN may now think of the Roots
as ‘that band’ on Late Night with Jimmy
Fallon
, but this alternative hip-hop/neo-soul collective have, and continue
to hold their own in the industry.

Exposure for the group has increased
ten-fold, and it has allowed them to return as far back to their musical
‘cairorevamp_users’ as they’ve been able to in the last two decades. Yes that’s right, the
Roots have been jamming since the late eighties, and have worked with some
pretty big r&b hitters including Erykah Badu, John Legend and even Roy
Ayers.

Undun is a musical biography of the fictional character Redford Stephens,
and opening track ‘Dun’ immediately sets the tone. The sound of a flat-lined life support machine
tells us that this will be a story of woe: Redford is dead, and the album works
backwards through his life. ‘Sleep’ follows, and is an angst-ridden pure
hip-hop track that contemplates death in the most cynical and paranoid of ways.

‘Make My’ and ‘One Time’ are as glum; but they
are soulful despite reflecting life’s worth, especially when spent hustling on
the streets.

On the other hand, ‘Kool On’ is a funky,
laidback song that celebrates the riches acquired through that same hustle.
Think the 1970s, neat afros and bright suits. ‘The Other Side’ articulates a
common hip-hop subject; Redford is a man on a mission to pull himself out of
the hand he’s been dealt.

If a piano, a guitar and a tambourine could
be angry, it would sound like ‘Stomp’, which sees our hero Redford as a man on
the edge. It’s through this song that we see the transformation; a good man
deciding to do bad things. A sentiment most likely followed on from the next
track ‘Lighthouse’ in which Redford finds himself a lonely man: ‘After the love
is lost/ Friendship dissolves/ And even blood is lost’.  Rapper Dice Raw features throughout the album,
but shines most here in his delivery of the chorus, and shows that he can sing as
well as he can rap.

‘I Remember’ is a brooding trip down memory
lane, and ‘Tip the Scale’ sees Redford take a me-against-the-world attitude,
before the album finishes on four instrumental tracks. ‘Redford’ is a very
simple but almost cinematic piece of piano, which drives immediately into the
violin-infused ‘Possibility’. Then comes the jazz-fusion hysteria of ‘Will to
Power’; a cacophonic reflection of the turbulence of Redford’s life. ‘Finality’, for the most part, reflects death,
tragedy and peace, but the violins are disturbed abruptly by one final note;
like when you press your hands down on a piano, trying to catch as many keys as
possible. It’s one last reminder that there’s nothing romantic about
death.  

Undun is a perfect reminder that no modern-day genre of music can tell a
story like hip-hop can. More so than that, few hip-hop acts can do that like the
Roots. Although drummer Quest Love and rapper Black Thought remain the only two
founding members, the group’s thirteenth album is as Roots-y as anything
they’ve ever released.

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