The Roots – undun

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undun continues the Roots’ progression towards adult-oriented hip-hop after How I Got Over. That is to say, the runtime is even shorter (ignoring the opening two intro tracks and the closing classical suite, undun lasts thirty minutes); Dice Raw sings more than he raps (even though rapping is clearly his forte); Black Thought barely raps at all (even though rapping is clearly his forte); beats are all mellow and mid-tempo (except for “Stomp,” which is still mid-tempo but louder) and filled with piano and orchestration. But the time they spent filling How I Got Over with guest features that made it one of the best albums of 2010 is spent on a concept within undun and … the concept is so vague that celebrating it because concept albums in hip-hop are a rarity is to damn it with faint praise; Redford Stevens dies and then witnesses his life in reverse and he’s almost every hip-hop cliche mixed into one (if there was the obligatory sex skit/song, we’d hit the jackpot). It just happens to have a linear timeline.

The specifics: “Make My” is the best song here, where Big K.R.I.T.’s introspective subject matter and style is tailor-made for the concept (whereas Greg Porn isn’t; see his verse on “Stomp”) and the second half of the song is well-orchestrated and well-mixed (those bass bubbles!); the single moment of daring on this album before the Redford Suite. I suppose the soul-sample-driven “Kool On,” being an anomaly, is also a highlight. And the Redford Suite is a goodie: “Redford” is a slightly shorter version than the one that appears on Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan (where the Roots got the name for their character); “Possibility” has a gorgeous string line; “Will to Power” is the most dangerous thing on the album where ?uestlove finally lets loose and “Finality” is a welcome variation of “Possibility.” But to say one of the best things about a hip-hop album is a classical suite is just weird.

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