Respected and admired by many artists and different walks of life through an impressive catalogue of 13 albums, the most prolific hip hop band adds yet another chapter to their legend with their latest album Undun. As the current in-house band for the Jimmy Fallon Show, free time to create has become more precious to The Roots. This proves to be a positive factor that really brings out the urgency and focus in lead emcee Black Thoughts lyrics and band leader/producer ?uestlove’s production.
A first in their career, The Roots went for a full concept narrative theme spanning through the entire album that unravels itself backwards in the spirit of a Tarentino film. Each carefully selected emcee brings a new perspective to the story and diversifies the vocal styles. Roots albums are known for having many featured artists that either drown out or overpower Black Thought’s performance, but Phonte, Big KRIT, Bilal, Greg Porn, Truck North and Dice Raw all complement the record very well. Most notable is Roots affiliate Dice Raw who is pretty much a bonafide member of the band as he is featured on many tracks and has become a double threat in raps and extremely soul piercing singing.
?uestlove reported that Redford Stephens, the main character in the album’s story, is based on several people the band has encountered; most of them being from Black Thought’s family. This source of inspiration brings forth Black Thought’s most personal performance ever that combines his experienced lyrical abilities with a reinvigorated hunger.
At the end of the album, ?uestlove enlists Sufjan Stevens to expand on his track “Redford”; effectively transforming it into one of the most theatrical instrumental compositions that spans into 4 tracks. All production on Undun (including the former) comes off as well balanced between refreshingly experimental electronic/soul fusion and nostalgic traditional breakbeats. Looks like all that tedious drumming at Fallon Show tapings paid off tenfold.
Most people can argue that hip hop is a young man’s sport, but coming from this band of seasoned musicians, the topics and presentation in Undun are all but juvenile yet 100% relevant and universally relatable to anyone facing moral issues in these financially hard times.
Highlights: Undun is an enjoyable listen from beginning to end. It’s a lifetime of a character sonically filtered into a comfortable 40 minutes of runtime.