Friday, January 6, 2012


by The Roots

Every time I've heard the statement over the last few years that 'hip-hop is dead', I've always thought of the perfect counter-argument, which is The Roots.  This ever-changing group has done more than anyone to advance and evolve the genre of hip-hop, while also transcending it with every new album.  And then they go and release Undun, which has to be considered their masterpiece.

Undun is structured as a concept album, telling the story of Redford Stevens, a small-time crook from a poor neighbourhood.  The character and concept were derived from a Sufjan Stevens song, but the packaging of the story is that of The Roots.  The story unfolds in reverse-chronological order, starting when Redford is already dead, and looking back on the string of choices that he made through his life.  At times the story can be confusing, as Black Thought is joined on the mic by a number of other MCs (including Phonte, Big KRIT, Dice Raw, Truck North, Bilal Oliver, and Greg Porn).

The story is secondary on this album though, because the music is incredible.  The Roots, under the direction of Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, push themselves to new heights here.  The more straight-forward hip-hop tracks at the beginning of the album are banging, but the disc ends with four classical pieces, which make up the Redford Suite.

Three things come away with me from listening to this.  The first is just how good rapper Black Thought is - he seems to be better with every new album, and he was always very good.  The second thing that I marvel at is how collaborative this whole album feels; I imagine that everyone involved had an equal hand, and that's why the music is just so good.  Finally, I can't believe that this album is actually less than forty minutes long.  Listening to it, I always feel like much more time has passed, since this album is so dense musically, lyrically, and spiritually.  Best of the year, hands down.

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