May 10, 2008

My Gut Reaction: The Roots - Rising Down (April 29, 2008)

(Editor's note: I had actually picked this up on its release date, but I didn't have the chance to sit down with Rising Down until now. I did my best to avoid the leaks, save for "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)", "Get Busy", and "Birthday Girl", so here goes nothing.)

Surprisingly, this had never popped up in the comments or in my e-mail, but I know for a fact that my two readers were puzzled after having read my write-up on Dice Raw's Reclaiming The Dead. They thought to themselves, "Why hasn't this asshole written about The Roots yet?" At least, I know I was wondering that, and I happen to be that asshole. The easy answer is: because i fucking haven't, that's why. But thank you for your concern and your support. Because of all of that, here's my Gut Reaction to Rising Down, the Roots crew's eighth studio album.

?uestlove, drummer for The Roots and all-around musical genius, has described Rising Down as their most politically-charged album to date, and if the album cover is any indication, he's probably not lying. Early word indicates that Rising Down is an angry, depressing listen, which makes sense, especially when you open your window and take a look at the state of America today. Doesn't that make you angry and depressed? (To my overseas readers, both of you: instead of opening a window, you should sit down and watch any given Joel Schumacher flick that isn't The Lost Boys. That should make you damn near suicidal.)

Anyway, Def Jam is doing their best not to market this disc, lest it take sales away from their other major release , Mariah Carey's E=MC2. Seriously. Every single video from Rising Down so far has made its debut online, and I wouldn't be surprised if ?uestlove and rapper Black Thought paid for them all out of pocket and even fried up some empanadas for the catering table. (The videos, all shot by Rik Cordero, do look visually interesting, though. That guy's pretty damn good at what he does.) My conspiracy theory is that Def Jam pulled all of their support from the album after The Roots caved to blogger pressure and deleted the lone crossover song "Birthday Girl" from the sequencing, an unprecedented move (at least, I think it is). The song remains on international versions of Rising Down, and even appears on iTunes, if you absolutely have to hear it. In a hilarious move, The Roots even commissioned a video, which stars porn star Sasha Grey, if you're into that sort of thing (and who isn't?).

Since I wasn't liking "Birthday Girl" at all, I'm looking forward to hearing how Rising Down sounds.

(A note on the tracklisting: to make things easier on the two readers, I'm listing the songs in the order they appear on Rising Down, not in the order they appear in The Roots's back catalog, as the group themselves are apt to do (track one is actually track 128, for example). When I finally get off of my lazy ass to write about The Roots for real, I'll make the effort to number the tracks as the group has deemed fit.)

1. THE POW WOW
A recorded conversation between The Roots and their then-label, Geffen, in which Black Thought goes completely apeshit (Entertainment Weekly used the term "apoplectic". I like that word). Gee, I wonder why Rising Down is considered their angriest album.

2. RISING DOWN (FEAT MOS DEF & STYLES P)
Thank God Mos Def is the first rapper you hear on Rising Down. After that intro, I was afraid that Black Thought was going to chase me around Camp Crystal Lake with a fucking machete. Styles P (of The Lox) spits a verse that I actually prefer over Thought's, but overall the song itself is pretty good.

3. GET BUSY (FEAT DICE RAW & PEEDI PEEDI)
I had already heard this song prior to the disc's release (and if you frequent the hip hop blogs, you've heard it, too), but I still think this shit rocks. Peedi's "Fuck da innanet!" line is amusing, but Dice Raw's correct pronunciation of W.E.B. Dubois's name has resulted in Max completely forgiving him for the abomination that is Reclaiming The Dead.

4. @15
If this is supposed to be Black Thought at age 15, I have to commend him on consistency: he sounds exactly the same today as he did back then. Somehow, that's a compliment.

5. 75 BARS (BLACK'S RECONSTRUCTION)
I had already heard this one, too. It's good, but both versions of "Thought @ Work" are better songs.

6. BECOMING UNWRITTEN
This track is way too short to be as annoying as it is.

7. CRIMINAL (FEAT TRUCK NORTH & SAIGON)
Since he's only really known for his role on Entourage, it's not surprising that I'm not at all impressed with Saigon. In fairness, though, the song sucks as a whole; Saigon shouldn't shoulder the entire burden.

8. I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE (FEAT PORN, DICE RAW, & TALIB KWELI)
Well, it's official: all of the good rap names are already taken. (Hey, Porn, the Roots fans know that you were on Game Theory under the name 'Porno'. No use trying to hide it.) However, all of the good hooks are not: I know for a fact that they're all kept in an airtight vault in a warehouse in Phoenix. I suppose The Roots weren't up for the trip. (By the way, Kweli only shows up on the terrible hook. Coincidence?)

9. I CAN'T HELP IT (FEAT MALIK B., PORN, MERCEDES MARTINEZ, & DICE RAW)
"I can't help hiding my secrets [that are] so known"? That's probably the best response from Malik B. that we'll get regarding Black Thought's accusations on "Water". This sounds like a Game Theory reject, beat-wise.

10. SINGING MAN (FEAT PORN, TRUCK NORTH, & DICE RAW)
What the fuck is with this chorus?

11. UNWRITTEN (FEAT MERCEDES MARTINEZ)
Sadly, not a cover of the Natasha Bedingfield song.

12. LOST DESIRE (FEAT MALIK B. & TALIB KWELI)
Talib Kweli doesn't really sound like himself, but you can tell it's him since he still sounds awkward over a beat. Nothing really memorable here.

13. THE SHOW (FEAT COMMON & DICE RAW)
I suppose that the Roots Crew's cover of Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick's "The Show" (from the In The Beginning...There Was Rap compilation) doesn't actually count as part of their catalog, hence another song with the same title. The way that Common ends his verse reminds me of Andre 3000 on Outkast's "Elevators (Me & You)": now those are two artists that will probably never work together, since having the same ex-girlfriend can make for awkward conversation.

14. RISING UP (FEAT CHRISETTE MICHELE & WALE)
This was the single chosen to replace "Birthday Girl"? Note to Black Thought: John Travolta isn't making money like that anymore. This song sucks, but I do appreciate how newcomer Wale sums up the purpose of my blog in his first line: "Hip hop ain't dead because the pulse is in us."

The following is a hidden track:

15. UNTITLED OUTRO
Thank God "Rising Up" wasn't the outro. This continuation of "The Pow Wow" tries to rationalize Thought's anger at the label, and, in turn, at the world at large. It ends abruptly with mention of a car accident. The US version ends right here: I've read elsewhere of an old freestyle featuring Black Thought that may or may not appear on international versions; that is clearly not on my purchased copy.

THE LAST WORD: Not only is Rising Down angry and depressing as fuck, it's also depressing and angry as fuck. While it would be foolish to expect our favorite artists to compartmentalize the bullshit that happens in the world on a daily basis, the fact that the two leaked singles are the best songs on Rising Down speaks volumes. There are a couple more that sparked my interest, but I'd be lying if I said that I would listen to this shit nonstop over the next month or so. I'll probably give it another spin in about seven months, after I find it and its collection of dust in the bottom of my filing cabinet, when I'm looking for some background music to organize my CD books to. Oh, well.

-Max

10 comments:

  1. one of the best albums from this year so far IMO! and it's not over yet... lol i have to disagree about "Rising Up". i thought it was one of the best songs from the album. overall, The Roots came hard with this one! at least IMO...

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  2. Other than that "Singing man" garbage, the rest of the album is good. I even found the old freestyle that they couldn't include on the album on someone's blog. Give it another month to sink in.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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  3. "The Roots came hard"

    ...

    anyway, I agree with your review. and I definately recommend hunting down that international track - The Grand Return. this track, Rising down, 75 bars and Get Busy are the best tracks on this album.

    I also think you couldn't have summed up "Singing Man" any better. I don't remember Game Theory having any bad tracks like this damn. Oh, and Common needs to hang up the mic.

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  4. this is disapointing. while i agree with your review, the record to me sags in the middle A LOT, and i put it down after playing it often last week, and i might not pick it up for a while.
    that being said, Rising Up is a FANTASTIC song...i'm not sure what isnt to like there, and Criminal I found good as well.
    And finally, speaking of Rik Cordero, I interviewed him over at my spot. Check it, he gave crazy long answers!
    keep up the good work, even though we disagree somewhat on this one.

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  5. sheeet... singing man is dope:the break beat sell off and the chorus is on some ol' back in the day nigguhcomescattthefuckoutthisebluesish...sometimes i wonder wtf some heds is listening for...co-sign andrew on criminal...i'ma still be playing this shit next month...

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  6. Full disclosure: after I wrote this review I uploaded four songs from Rising Down onto my iPod: "Rising Down", "Get Busy", "75 Bars", and "I Can't Help It". My iPod subjected me to a constant barrage of Roots songs every morning when I hit the shuffle (the funniest instance to me was when it played EPMD's "The Steve Martin" right after "Get Busy", since both songs use the same vocal sample repeating "Get busy!"), which led me to believe my iPod was trying to tell me that I should give Rising Down another shot. So I played the CD in my car last night, and I will say this: I stand by my original review, since it's not as good as everyone wants it to be. I am changing up my stance on "Criminal", though, since hearing it in the car convinced me that it does actually sound good.

    I still don't like "Rising Up", though. I think it sounds artificially sunny for what was, up until the last song, an overtly dark, depressing, and pessimistic disc. I also don't like the song in general. Sorry, Andrew and everyone. I tried.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, though; I greatly appreciate it.

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  7. yo dude, i was just about to add your blog to my favorites when i read your analysis on rising down. Man you dont seem to know hiphop. deasing the blacktougth and talib kweli? man if not for anything give them props for being consistent, showing love to the game and actually putting hiphop first.Man if you dont respect blackthougth and talib who do you respect? Kanye west? nigga please

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  8. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJune 13, 2008

    Man Blacktougth and Blackthougth suck monley balls.

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  9. AnonymousJune 28, 2008

    Criminal was utterly insane, DID YOU HEAR SAIGONS VERSE? That was one of the best verses I've heard in a while. And god damn your talib bashing, he sounded good over that beat.

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  10. I was with you until you said "Rising Up" sucks...everybody has an opinion ...you are of course entitled to yours, but I adore the song and think we do agree Rik Codero is great at his job and does an amazingly high energy and heartfelt video on what was clearly a low budget (one room, lots of people) I stumbled upon your blog because I know that jazz sample and can't remember the name of the song so I am combing the internet trying to find it and my search string choices are leading me all over the place... we both agree Hip Hop is not dead...blessings to you

    danna

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