The Roots: undun
The Roots are one of the hardest working bands in America. After putting out two great records last year and serving as the only good thing about Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the collective has returned with undun, a concept album that traces the life and death of a character named Redford Stephens whose tragic end comes from his involvement in the drug trade.
It sounds like dark material, but hip hop is preoccupied by such topics. With a character like Stephens, The Roots are able to deconstruct his life episodically, chopping up his life into mere minutes at a time. The album clocks in at around forty minutes, almost a tease, but it just embodies how short the central character’s life is.
Where The Roots excel is in creating an atmosphere. The rapping talent is always good, particularly when collaborator Dice Raw is involved, but the musical tracks themselves are nuanced. This group does not settle for processed, electronic beats. Instead it’s very much a group effort, particularly from the ridiculously talented and outspoken drummer ?uestlove.
So dedicated are The Roots to their sound that the track “Redford” features piano from Sufjan Stevens, a seemingly unlikely collaborator on an album such as this. This song flows effortlessly into the string-laced “Possibility,” the percussive “Will to Power,” and the tragic, instrumental eulogy “Finality.” While concept albums are a difficult undertaking, undun manages to breathe life into fiction and then make Stephens’ absence felt. Once more, The Roots up the ante for rappers and bands alike.