THE ROOTS / “False Media”
The way I hear it, the opening three-track sequence of Game Theory, The Roots’ new album, is about as close to perfect as hip-hop ever gets. It’s everything good rap music should be: raw, ragged, rhythmic and very, very intense. It’s also sophisticated and subtle—you just have to know what you’re listening to.
The Roots crew get things started with a short keyboard interlude that was (apparently) either borrowed from or performed by the late J. Dilla. The interlude briefly balances itself between serene and foreboding before tipping in the latter direction. The vocal sample (I don’t know who it is) at the beginning of “False Media” is a nice touch: “I don’t think old men ought to promote war so that young men can fight it.” I like how it’s half-buried in the mix, making you have to listen a few times through to even figure out what it says.
When Black Thought finally starts rapping, he leads you to believe he’s doing one of those typical ‘I’m out to get paid’ rhymes. “If I can’t work to make it, I’ll rob and take it / Either that, or me and my children are starving and naked.” The first time I heard it, I thought, “Well, alright. They’re sounding good, so I’ll let the complete lack of lyrical originality slide.” But a couple moments later Thought says, “Hey, it’s me—a monster y’all done created / I’ve been inaugurated.” Inaugurated? I perked up a little. By the end of Thought’s verse, I was smiling at the cat’s audacity. He’d written a typical shit-talking ‘gangsta rap’ record, except from the first-person perspective of the Commander In Chief himself, George W. That’s good stuff.
From there, The Roots segue immediately into the title track, the hook of which is based on an early Sly Stone sample. (The Sly song is “Life Of Fortune And Fame,” but the hard rock groove reminds me of a different track. I’ll get into that in this week’s Classic.) On this one, pay attention to the way the entire first minute of the song is essentially a ‘false start.’ The arrangement begins in somber, midtempo fashion and just when The Roots have you convinced you’re about to hear something mellow and introspective, the real song comes blasting in. Contrasting sounds come from every direction; Black Thought is sounding more hype than he has in a couple albums (“Voted most unlikely to succeed / ‘Cause my class was full of naysayers, cheaters and thieves”); and I love the way they keep dropping in the Sly sample, although each time they do so it becomes more and more fractured and distorted. With it’s grinding guitars, multi-layered drums and off-kilter samples, “Game Theory” (the song) is a great example of post-P.E. ‘noise as music.’
Again, the Roots segue immediately into the next song, “Don’t Feel Right,” one of those records that quickly establishes a feeling of intense forward movement then never lets up until it’s over. Even through the choruses, the tension just keeps building. I also love the sentiment of the song—that there’s something wrong, although it’s difficult at times to say exactly what it is. As Thought says in the first verse, “The struggle ain’t right up in your face, it’s more subtle.” The Roots MC saves some of his best rhymes of the album for the last verse:
Sex, drugs, murder, politics and religionWhen B.T. ends one of his verses with a question—“Something don’t feel right out here / Know what I’m saying?”—I always want to answer that question. “Yeah, I do,” I want to say. “I know exactly you were saying.”
Forms of hustlin’
Watch who you put all your trust in
Worldwide, we coincide with who’s sufferin’
Who never had shit and ain’t got nothin’…
I’m fired up thinking ‘bout the payback, ASAP
You fuck around and be an enemy of the state, black
Ill, but that’ll too real for TV
It’s crazy when you too real to be free
If you got no paper, then steal this CD
Listen man, I let you know how it feels to be me
It don’t feel right
—Mtume ya Salaam
Bonus track: “Clock With No Hands.” My favorite track from the Game Theory album. Exactly the introspective, somber sort of record that I thought “Game Theory” was going to be.
Appreciate but don’t like
I’ve bought a lot of Roots CDs. A lot. Downloaded others from various sites. Watched videos and interviews. Really, really like the direction they pursue. Agree with a whole bunch of their views. But the hard truth is that The Roots don’t rock my musical boat.
I can’t put my finger on it. For me, listening to them is work. There’s no joy in it. I want to like them. Really, really do, but as much as I appreciate them, I don’t like their music. To put it in context, I’d rather listen to Prince than listen to The Roots, even though I’m far, far more in tune to The Roots than to Prince.
Thus, one of the great mysteries of love, life and music: some things, some people you just like, some people you don’t, and that’s just the way it is. No reflection on The Roots: to use that clichéd but relevant parting line: it’s not you, it’s me….
—Kalamu ya Salaam
I can only hope...
Like Goodie MoB, The Roots is one of those rap groups who seem to appeal to hardcore fans and virtually no one else. Other acclaimed rap groups—I’m thinking of people like The Fugees, Digable Planets or Public Enemy to name just a few—seem to have certain elements of their music that appeal to non-heads. Not The Roots. Tell me your reaction to The Roots and I can probably tell you what your relationship to hip-hop is in general. For Kalamu, it’s that he appreciates it but doesn’t necessarily like it. And that’s cool. I can only hope that twenty-something years from now when my son gets to be my age, I’m cool enough to appreciate whatever he’s listening to even if I don’t like it.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, November 12th, 2006 at 1:06 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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