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The Roots - 2011

In 2010 Kanye West released "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" on November 22nd. It's a brilliant journey of an album with many layers. Since it came out so late last year I had no shot at digesting it before doing my top ten list. (It would have been top 5) This year The Roots released "Undun" on December 6th. It's a brilliant journey of an album with many layers, but where Kanye bombards you with samples, pomp, and bravado, the Roots had a singular vision and made a concise masterpiece. Undun is a concept album about a quasi-fictional inner city kid named Redord Stephens, (inspired by Sufjan Stephens' song "Redford"), who gets caught up in the street life out of necessity and ultimately ends up dead at the age of 25. The story unfolds backwards, opening the album with a flatline in the hospital and ending with an instrumental set of tracks that could be his birth, although the progression of intensity of the tracks has lead me to believe it's a representation of his life cycle. I'm a 34 year old white guy who owns a house in the suburbs, so I'll save you the absurdity of me trying to relate to this story. Also, it's not a new story by any means - inner city kid dies too young. What the album is, is flawless. I love concept albums, and The Roots achieve what most fail at when recording a concept album. They tell a story without hitting you over the head with it. After one listen you may not even know it's one cohesive story line. Instead the story is implied through lyrical images and the themes of each track. Black Thought is on top of his game lyrically, rapping not so much in the first person from Redford's point of view, but more generally from that point of view. (does that make sense?) The guest spots from BIG K.R.I.T., Phonte, Dice Raw, & others slide into the verses very comfortably, building on the message of each section of the album. Most guest spots on rap albums hit you over the head, but The Roots albums always seem like a true collaboration. The sound of the record is top notch, with soul hooks from guest singer Bilal that could have easily been samples from ?uestlove's 70's r&b vinyl collection, which is a huge plus for the album in my book. Why sample, when you can write your own hooks and create the whole album from the ground up. Ultimately one of my favorite aspects of Undun is the concise writing. I'm always complaining that bands put too many tracks on their albums, instead of just their best effort. Back in the day where cd's cost $18 and labels had to convince people to buy them, they loaded up discs with bonus tracks under the guise that more tracks=value. In this digital age that's not necessary. Undun comes in at just under 39 minutes, with most tracks ranging from 2-4 minutes. The album keeps flowing, not allowing the listener to become lost or bored. When the album ends after an instrument suite that includes Sufjan's solo piano, a string section, and some avante-piano-drum mayhem, my first reaction was, "It's over already?". Immediately followed by, "I need to hear that again". The latter is what all albums should strive for. brilliant journey of an album with many layers. Since it came out so late last year I had no shot at digesting it before doing my top ten list.

Posted by Tambe



Posted: 04/28/2013

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Tambe ranks this as the
#4 favorite album of 2011