Erudite, literate and keenly aware of their surroundings, Philadelphia’s The Roots have become an anomaly in hip-hop – even though they arguably stay truest to its original spirit. Black Thought, Questlove and their compatriots might be a real live band who have the clout to attract Erykah Badu, Mos Def and Common to contribute to their most explosive album yet, but they’re mavericks in a rap world obsessed with the dollar, survival and the art of war.
Not for nothing is the title taken from Chinua Achebe’s novel about the erosion of traditional ways in the Niger delta area of West Africa. Things are falling apart in The Roots’ America – relationships, families, politics – and this suite of songs is a way to describe and exorcise the psychological impact. The subtleties of the playing, hypnotic and chiseled, rather than the usual limp rap funk contributes to the organic expression of pain and paranoia, makes it real. A change is gonna come, and real soon, is the core of The Roots’ message. For a change these hip hoppers give instructions on ways to prepare for that inevitable.