Record Review: The Roots, How I Got Over

The Hype: Waiting for the new album from the Roots to come out has been torturous–especially for those who love them enough to endure the entire hour of the Jimmy Fallon's comedy just to watch them play every week, all the while knowing that they should be on tour with an album that was supposed to come out in February.

In fact, the first time they debut the title track of their new album, “How I Got Over (out today on Okay Player) was on the Jimmy Fallon Show as the show's house band almost a year ago today. If their fans didn't love them so damn much, they might be a little pissed about Philly's finest hip-hop outfit dangling this carrot in front of them for so long. Well, they finally dropped it. So eat up.

The Judgement: It's been 15 years and seven albums since the Root's 1995 debut album, Do You Want More?!!!??! And though it would be all to easy for the band to use critical praise as incentive to keep their their jazzy, boom-bap formula in high concentration, rapper/vocalist Black Thoughts words throughout the album indicate that change–even for the greatest hip-hop band in the world–is ultimately necessary.

Smack in the middle of How I Got Over is a track called “The Day” that pretty much sums up Thought's, uh, thoughts on the subject: “I gotta try new things in these trying times/ 2010 is different than it was in '95.” 
For the most part, Thought–along with drummer ?uest Love and company–sound like they've taken some notable artistic leaps with this record without losing the core of what makes them special. Opening with the down tempo instrumentals of “A Piece of Light,” layers of harmonic vocals (courtesy of the trio of female vocalists from  Dirty Projectors!?!?) weave through just under two minutes of sauntering keyboard swells. The inspiring, left-field cameos also include vocals from Joanna Newsom (“Right On”), John Legend and Jim James of My Morning Jacket/Monsters of Folk (both are featured on “How I Got Over”).  Rapper and Roots Crew alumni Dice Raw also makes nicely played appearance as a vocalist on songs like “Now Or Never” and Philly-based subterranean rhyme smith STS doses the album with a nasally and cocky flow reminiscent of Drake–minus the radio gloss. 
The front of the album oozes a confident, yet-observant swagger and an afflux of jazzy invention. However, latter tracks like The Fire, “Doin' It Again” and “Web 20/20” light a lively, artistic blaze under the entire production. The band caps their promise of trying new things with the album's final track, “Hustla,” synthesizing the sounds of a crying baby as a backdrop for a song about life of a family man struggling to hash out a proper life for his loved ones. It's quite inventive, and not half as cruel as it sounds.
The Grade: A

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