Tag Archives: The Roots

Esperanza Spalding – I Can’t Help It; Radio Music Society

Originally recorded by Michael Jackson, written by Stevie Wonder.

Came across this dope live version on YouTube, as well.

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The Roots Feat. Greg Porn – Stomp; undun

Producer: Sean C & LV


Top 20 Albums Of 2011

No intro needed — with no further ado, here are my top 20 albums of 2011 (in order of release date).

  1. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra (Feb. 18) — Odd Future and Tyler, the Creator burst on the scene this year, but Ocean stole the show with this tape that was so grandeur it would earn him songwriting credits for Beyonce, and placement on Watch The Throne. Witty songwriting, smooth vocals and drum-heavy, 808 production make this a great, easy listen. The standout cut Novacane was one of the best R&B records of the year.
  2. Adele – 21 (Feb. 21) — 2011 was Adele’s year all the way around. Charting and platinum in over a dozen countries, she cut across genres and cultures, as great music should — a testament to her soulful sound. 21 yielded two Billboard number 1 singles, and the critical and commercial acclaim to match. Moving 5 million-plus units, this is the best-selling album since 2004.
  3. Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights, Early Mornings (March 1) — Long respected as one of the most talented vocalists and songwriters in the game, she further cemented her place with this debut solo album on which she produced a majority of the songs and wrote (or co-wrote) all of them. Sensual from beginning to end and it never feels forced.
  4. Raekwon – Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang (March 6)  — For awhile, Chef Rae had the best hip-hop album of the year. Feature-heavy and a tad long, yes, but it comes together quite nicely.
  5. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (March 21) — In the same vein as Frank Ocean, the Weeknd made his initial mark with a debut mixtape and then proceeded to dominate the rest of the year — musically and virally. This is what jumped the whole thing off and he hasn’t looked back since.
  6. Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva (March 28) — KRIT came all-the-way-correct with his first mixtape, but he blew my mind with this one. Just listened to the entire thing all the way through again last week and it sounded just as stellar as the first time. Incredible production, soul samples, and some of the tightest rhymes and flows spit all year.
  7. Fly Union – TGTC (April 26) — How these cats continue to remain slept-on absolutely baffles me (and is proof that a lot of the blogs, labels, A&Rs, etc. aren’t doing their damn job). After a year or two of buzz-building via free “Value Pack” EPs, this was their first full-length project. Their chemistry is great (all in-house production), the content is diverse and relative, and it really doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out right now. Plus the features — namely BJ The Chicago Kid — are on point.
  8. Bad Meets Evil (Eminem & Royce Da 5’9″) – Hell: The Sequel (June 13) — Two godbody MCs and they rip this shit to shreds. Period.
  9. Big Sean – Finally Famous (June 28) — Big Sean shocked me a little bit — this, I thought, was a really good album. Much credit goes to No I.D., who blessed Sean with incredible production, but Sean could have dropped the ball and he didn’t. Three hit records (two number 1s) and counting on here. Real solid work.
  10. Beyonce – 4 (June 28) — Not sure how this is still yet to hit the platinum mark, but that shouldn’t take away from the quality of this album. Beyonce did a great job a channelling earlier eras and influences — there are some really strong records on here, especially Party (one of my favorites of the year) and Love On Top.
  11. Dom Kennedy – From The West Side, With Love II (June 28) — Dom came through with one of the best flowing albums of the year. From Grind’n to Money Don’t Stop to OPM to 2 MPH, and on and on, this is something great to ride to. Real playa shit all the way through.
  12. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80 (July 2) — Sonically, this is the most advanced shit I’ve heard this year. We knew Lamar could rhyme but he really showed his ability construct a complete body of work, a skill many lack today. Conceptually this joint is off the charts. This is really, really dense, but it gets better with each spin. Been listening the day to it since dropped and I’m yet to tire of it. Blew 99 percent of everything else clean out of the water.
  13. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne (August 12) — That people had the nerve to hate on this is pretty outrageous. Higher expectations are the only possible explanation. Even if they didn’t meet them (in the eyes of some), they came close and still landed far beyond most anyone else in hip-hop. No Church In The Wild is the best intro of the year — that joint drives. Otis is the best sample of the year. Niggas In Paris has taken on a life of its own. Murder To Excellence is phenomenal. Great sampling, great production, and sick rhymes….and cats we’re hating.
  14. J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story (Sept. 27) — This has grown on me more than any album this year — especially the back end. There’s still some things I think Cole could have done differently, but there’s no question that the pros heavily outweigh the negatives.
  15. Phonte – Charity Starts At Home (Sept. 27) — Phonte is now near the top of my “most underrated MCs doing it” list. While this was his solo debut, he’s obviously a seasoned vet from his Little Brother and Foreign Exchange days. Not only can he rhyme with the best of them, but his singing is on-point, the production is solid and the content is excellent.
  16. Freddie Gibbs – Cold Day In Hell (Oct. 31) — Gibbs has me all the way on board now, and this is what did it. The flow is razor-sharp.
  17. Pac Div – The Div (Nov. 8) — This is another one that’s continued to get better with time, albeit short. There’s some tracks that really knock on here, but Pac Div really wins when they smoothen things out, and that happens often on The Div. “The system for you to be a part of it”, says Mibbs on High Five. “Declare your independence.” Indeed, they do.
  18. Drake – Take Care (Nov. 15) — People love to hate on Drake, but there’s no denying this album. More than anything, it’s 100 percent cohesive. Whether he’s rapping or singing, the canvas, often provided by 40, is perfect. Hit records are galore, but never forced, and the guest appearances are well-placed.
  19. The Roots – undun (Dec. 13) — It’s between this and Section.80 for hip-hop album of the year, in my opinion. Conceptually, sequentially, lyrically, cinematically, musically, it’s flawless.
  20. Common – The Dreamer, The Believer (Dec. 20) — Common’s bars are cool on this, but nothing we’ve never heard him do before — the sequencing, a fantastic supporting cast (writers, producers, instrumentalists, background vocalists, engineers) and No I.D.’s presence all over are what made this album so good.
  21. Other dope shit: Anthony Hamilton, Back To Love; Tyler, the Creator, Goblin; Jeezy – TM103; TiRon & Ayomari – A Sucker For Pumps; Maybach Music Group – Self Made.

The Roots Feat. Greg Porn & Truck North – Kool On; undun

Sample: DJ Rogers – Where There’s A Will There’s A Way [Link]


The Roots – Game Theory; Game Theory

Sample: Sly and The Family Stone – Life Of Fortune and Fame [Link]


undun: A Track-By-Track Review

At this moment, this is my hip-hop/R&B/(maybe every genre, but I can’t fairly say) album of the year. Common could change that next week, but for now, undun is it.

The shit is perfect. The Roots always come with it, but this one hit me hard from the first listen. Combining the best elements of each of their most recent albums — the dark tone of Game Theory and Rising Down, and the drive of How I Got Over — this should go down as one of their masterpieces. Unlike those albums, which I enjoyed no doubt (How I Got Over, especially, is really, really good), I thought undun — not including the four movements at the end — was incredibly consistent, and constantly building, throughout. There was never a dip or break in the action, and the sequencing is impeccable.

Much has been made of the fact that The Roots constructed this album to tell the semi-fictional story of Redford Stephens, a young, Black, urban teenager, and you can hear parts of that story being told on each of the album’s 10 tracks. However, despite the cleverness of the narrative, undun is mostly just about the music for me. Blacks Thought is Black Thought; the choruses on every song are tight and meaningful; and the stripped down, heavy and poignant instrumentation — especially the drums, guitars and piano — provide a perfect canvas.

1. Dun – A quiet intro, this does a fine job setting the stage. No lyrics and nothing too energetic from the instrumentalists or vocalists. This is simply the beginning of a steadily brewing tale.

2. Sleep – Clocking in at just over two minutes, and consisting of just one verse, this song creeps eerily — it almost feels like a clock ticking. Continuing the intro’s mission of laying the foundation for the rest of the album, we’re introduced to the dark world of Stephens via the hook (“I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams”), and Black Thought, who raps that “Illegal activity controls my Black symphony.”

3. Make My (Feat. Big K.R.I.T. & Dice Raw) – Featuring one hip-hop’s best lyricists, this rides smooth. KRIT and Black both offer up insightful verses, reflecting on their — or Redford’s — grim reality. Like “Sleep”, the chorus backs this up perfectly: “they told me that the end, won’t justify the means, and they told me that the end, don’t justify the dreams”. It’s the two-minute jam and harmonizing at the end that makes this song for me. I could listen to that segment on repeat for hours. So smooth.

4. One Time (Feat. Phonte & Dice Raw) – Dating back to their last album, How I Got Over, Phonte has become one of The Roots’ most effective collaborators. This record is no different. Here is where the pace of the album really picks up, as the keys and drums drive this one all the way home, along with some energetic rhymes from Phonte, who wastes no time getting things going  — “the spirit in the sky screamed homicide, but it was time to ride on some niggas funny-talking, if too much money talking we make ’em economize, real rap no tale-spinnin!” Black Thought dives in menacing on verse 2, and Dice Raw comes correct, as well. Another great, purposeful chorus, exemplifies just how flawless this album is, as “Make My” flows seamlessly into this, and this flow seamless into…

5. Kool On (Feat. Greg Porn & Truck North) – This shit right here?! On my first run-through the album, this is the first song that snatched my attention and made me hit the repeat button. Incredible chorus, fantastic sample and super-soulful, this grooves 100 percent and the rest is really gravy. Black spittin’ that shit as usual: “I got ’em waiting on the news like I’m Cronkite.” This is the only cut on undun that features a sample — check it out: DJ Rogers, “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way”.

6. The Otherside (Feat. Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn) – ?uestlove’s drums absolutely knock on this, and the keys are haunting. Fellow Soulquarian Bilal — one of the best crooners in the business — fits in perfectly and makes his presence well-felt in the refrain, personifying Redford’s tale.

7. Stomp (Feat. Greg Porn) – The guitar on this joint is phenomenal, almost erotic, reminding very much of the guitar on Kanye’s “Gorgeous“. No chorus, just spirited, passionate, distorted spoken word; something to listen to before a game…. Black’s best verse on the album — he smokes this shit! And it’s produced by Sean C & LV (Diddy’s comrades who did much of Hov’s American Gangster).

8. Lighthouse (Feat. Dice Raw) – Again with the perfect symmetry, Stomp rolls seamlessly into this, and it works out magnificently. Lighthouse may be the best song on this album. At the least, it’s got the best chorus — and maybe the best chorus I’ve heard on any hip-hop record in 2011. Some have compared it to some Stevie Wonder-type ish. The imagery and analogy they use is absolutely perfect. “No one’s in the lighthouse, face-down in the ocean…” The keys, bass and general airiness, makes you really feel like you’re in the ocean, or at least hovering over the Atlantic or the Pacific; it feels blue, but is the album’s clear plateau.

9. I Remember – Signaling the album’s winding down, Black offers up more verses of reflection. Some strings add a nice touch.

10. Tip The Scale (Feat. Dice Raw) – The final “hip-hop” cut is the perfect conclusion to this fictional narrative, as Redford contemplates suicide via Dice Raw’s chorus, and contemplates his life’s worth. “On the side of suicide, heads or tails,” he asks.

11-14. Redford (1st Movement); Possibility (2nd Movement); Will To Power (3rd Movement); Finality (4th Movement) — These are orchestral pieces, called Redford’s Movements, that I’m really in no position to be a fair critic of. I can tell you that they sound beautiful, and provide a great closing to the dark story of Redford Stephens.


The Roots Feat. Blu, P.O.R.N., & Dice Raw – Radio Daze; How I Got Over