December 23, 2008

Reader Review: The Roots - Rising Down (April 29, 2008)

(Today's reader write-up is brought to us by The V Man, who decided to write about the eighth album from The Roots, Rising Down, which was released to critical acclaim but commercial failure earlier this year. Since I only gave my "Gut Reaction" to this disc back when it dropped (okay, it was actually a couple of weeks after it had dropped, sue me), I'm interested to hear how my two readers feel about this disc now, as it's been on the shelf for about eight months. Comments can be left below, as always.)

The obligatory intro. I never cared much for obligatory intros, although this is pretty amusing, and relevant; the way that ?uestlove and Black Thought completely fly off the handle while talking to the label bigwigs is slightly hilarious and more so disheartening. It's dope that the Roots are making their money without sacrificing artistic integrity, but, damn it, I can still feel their frustration.

A lot of critics have given this album shit for having too many guest appearances. Most noticeably, they've complained about Mos Def dropping the first verse on a Roots album. (I didn't complain, but I remember mentioning that specific fact in my review, as well.) I say, Fuck 'Em. (Notice the capital letters at the beginning of both "fuck" and "'em". That's how you know he's serious.) Mos absolutely kills this with one of the best verses he's done in a long time ("...Grapes of wrath in a shapely glass/ingredients influential on your ways and acts"). The haunting beat (I really dig the drums and that "hello-hello-hi" thing) really helps set the ominous tone for most of Rising Down. Thought murks shit as well (a trend you'll begin to pick up on as the album goes on), and Styles has the worst verse on the song and is still impressive. A great fucking track. (I don't agree with the Styles comment: I still like his verse today. But I will admit that "Rising Down" found its way onto my iPod playlist a few weeks after I wrote the review, and it is a fucking banger.)

Unbelievably, it gets better. All 3 emcees absolutely wreck this shit (yes, even Dice Raw's cokehead moon boot-wearing ass). The drums are fucking bananas (no Stefani). Peedi spits the best verse I've heard from him, and I've heard a lot from him (as The V Man also happens to be penning an unauthorized Peedi Peedi biography as we speak): "...I'm used to the "1-2 check", not the "one two step"/I'm strapped,I'll leave every head among you wet/Now let's go!/You know I'm politically incorrect at the show/I started with a "can I get a ho?"). Awesome. (This track has held up very well over the year. I'm actually digging Peedi's verse more so than the other artists, but the package as a whole still speaks volumes about what artists that happen to be signed to major labels are capable of creating when they aren't necessarily looking to jump on the sales bandwagon.)

4. @ 15
The first obligatory skit. I never cared much for obligatory skits, although this is pretty amusing and relevant. Oh shucks, I repeated myself. Anyway, Thought was dope as shit even when he was 15. The rhymes pale in comparison to his recent work, as they should. But his Big Daddy Kane impersonation is spot-on, so the skit works.

The title is pretty self explanatory. Thought rips shit for 75 bars, keeps it interesting, and repeats the N-word about 492759 times without sounding ignorant or boring ("...I'm in the field with a shield and a spear, n---a/I'm in your girl with her heels in the air, n---a). Yeah, "internationable" may not be an actual word, but who gives a fuck? The beat rocks, too.

This shit is pointless.

The chorus is catchy as hell, and I have no idea who sings it: it kind of sounds like the guy from Maroon 5, except not as annoying or un-listenable. Saigon captures paranoia and frustration with stereotypes towards black males perfectly; he even explains the reasoning behind his anger ("...We already been knocked, scrutinized, plus/cops rush to brutalize us/America's polluted by lust, who can I trust?") . That shit is raw, son. The end of his verse is simplistic, and yet, fucking perfect ("...If I don't trust you, then I might touch you/If I ain't got love for you, then Fuck You"). (Obviously someone is still waiting with bated breath for that Saigon debut album that will, apparently, never be released. Although 2009 is a new year, wasn't that shit supposed to drop in 1989?) Thought and Truck have great verses as well.

The fuck kind of name is P.O.R.N.? Well, regardless, he's not too shabby on the mic. He rides the simplistic (almost boring, but still works) beat quite well. That's definitely Kweli on the hook, yet he ain't credited for some reason, so I'll fucking credit him. Anyway, this track doesn't live up to the standard set by the previous ones, but it's still dope, and does a great job of keeping up with that depressing tone they were going for here. (I'll agree that it's depressing as fuck, but I still don't like this song. That probably won't change, unless P.O.R.N. happens to apologize for his rap name. Come on, man, when all hope is lost, just use your real name, like Keith Murray and Morrissey have done for years.)

Ah, Malik B. is back. Only as a featured guest, but still. His verse is pretty good, and P.O.R.N.'s (God that name sucks) is alright, but not as a good as his contribution on the last song. Thought runs away with the track, far outshining everyone else, as well he should, since this is kind of his fucking album. The beat is kinda boring, but very murky and dark, which is a plus as far as album consistency goes. I guess this is the "downtime" portion of the album.

This P.O.R.N. guy is all over this album. (I'm pretty sure he called himself P.O.R.N. just so we bloggers would have to keep using the word in our reviews, which in turn would cause Blogger and Google to believe that we're all posting adult content.) He ain't bad on this, though. Truck and Dice do their respective thing (one of them has a cool little vocal effect on his voice for his verse - not Auto-Tune, goddammit), but Thought runs away with it again. Another borderline boring, murky beat that still manages to work. I dig this track, as well as the last two, but damn, I sure hope the energy picks back up soon!

Aaaaaand it doesn't. This is still nice though. This girl can sing, and it's only a minute and a half long, so it doesn't get annoying. (Maybe not to you.) Real pretty beat, yet it's still dark. ?uestlove kills the production on this album. Thought's verse is very depressing, so of course, I happen to like it.

Ah, now they credit Kweli, and for good reason, as he murks this. Still kind of corny, still almost offbeat, but fuck it, I like Talib Kweli. (If you disagree, please kindly consult deez nutz). Also, the energy finally picks back up a bit. Malik B.'s verse is a lot better than his last one ("...Get off the choir with your soft attire/n----s out here don't give a fuck, 'cause they lost desire"). Thought continues to murder shit as well, and the chorus is catchy. Fuck the haters, I like the choruses on this album, for the most part.

Speaking of choruses, I really like this one. Common does pretty well, but I've heard better, even in his recent work. (Surely The V Man can't be talking about Universal Mind Control?) Thought reminds the listener that this is a fucking Roots album (in case you had forgotten to consult the album cover, liner notes, or the title of this post prior to listening), and impresses once again. The "show" metaphor is executed well, and the beat is cool. Pretty good track.

OK, this track is amazing. You might believe I've been paid by the Roots or some shit, the way I been singing the praises of Rising Down, but that's simply not the case: this is a stupendous way to end it. The beat and lyrics are quite celebratory, which contrasts the fuck out of the tone for the rest of the album, but that's what makes this track work. Ain't nothing wrong with a happy ending once in a while. Yeah, Thought's part in the chorus is stupid, but that's the only flaw. Chrisette Michelle can sing her ass off (damn I wish her album was better); I love that smoky, smooth style. Also, Wale (whom I never heard of before this track, just like everyone else except Mr. and Mrs. Wale) impressed the hell outta me here. Real charismatic style, a unique flow and witty non-corny lines; I recommend picking up some of his mixtapes. Awesome song, but it ain't over yet folks. (Okay, my turn. I didn't really care for this song when I first heard it, an opinion that caught me some flak in the comments section, but in re-listening to it today, I still don't like it much. To me, it's all sorts of ridiculous to end what is a dark, nightmarish album with this happy-go-lucky type of shit. Maybe I would have liked this track more if it was included on The Tipping Point or something, but for now, this song is meh for me. I agree with The V Man's comments about Wale, though: his mixtapes are worth seeking out online.)

(A note: the following track was included on some promotional copies of Rising Down, but was ultimately cut from the proper album release. Copies of the song are still readily available on the Interweb, though, so that you can understand what the hell The V Man is talking about.)

This starts out as a radio freestyle, which Thought kills. Not sure who all else is on this, but all the emcees involved do well for the most part, and are undoubtedly coming off the top. This is all well and good, but a bit unnecessary, and the sound quality ain't too great. It's also a little too long. Then, thankfully, the album ends in a coherent, understandable way with a continuation of the intro, which fleshes the argument out a little bit and helps explain
things. The outro ends on a humorous note, as someone hits the Roots Crew's rental car out of nowhere. It makes sense why they included this, but it's really not necessary. Well, at least they didn't put "Birthday Girl" on here. Christ, that shit sucked. (I actually feel bad for Roots fans that bought Rising Down either overseas or on iTunes, since they were subjected to "Birthday Girl", featuring Patrick Stump from Fallout Boy. Regardless of a porn star's presence in the video, the song was pretty fucking terrible. International Roots fans also received a second bonus track, "The Grand Return", featuring Dice Raw and Wahud Ahmad, on their copies of Rising Down: in my opinion, that particular track would have been a better closer for the album as a whole, even though it's only one verse long.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is one of the best albums of 2008. Yeah, I said it. (He did say it: I saw it happen.) I really dug Game Theory, but I like Rising Down even more, as it's done an even better job of capturing that dark, ominous, murky, depressing, angry vibe that they were also going for on that particular album. Do the Roots need some Prozac or some shit? Or are they just frustrated with not getting the respect, recognition, and yes, money, they deserve? (Yes. But hopefully their NBC paychecks signed by Jimmy Fallon will help them out a little bit.) I bet it's a little bit of both. Regardless, minus that "Becoming Unwritten" shit, and the ultimately unnecessary hidden track, this is a solid LP. It might bog down a bit in the middle, but not enough to ruin the listening experience. One of their best, behind only Things Fall Apart and illadelph halflife, in my opinion. Might sound like a radical statement, but I'm a radical dude, homie. Now I gotta go do some radical shit, like write my portfolio for my Poetry Workshop class. That shit is hard, kid.

But yeah, buy this album.

-The V Man

(Intrigued? Angry? Surprised? Interested in seeing this experiment expand further throughout the blog in 2009? Or do you just want to talk shit about the fact that I didn't really like Rising Down when I first heard it? All of your comments are appreciated. And for those that are wondering, here's the link to my original Gut Reaction of this disc.)


  1. I just wanna say...I was NOT talking about Universal Mind Control.
    That album fucking BLOWS.

    And, you're an asshole for the comment you added for "The Show" hahaha.
    I knew you'd make me look dumb somehow.

    Seriously, thanks for posting this, really appreciate it.

    -V Man

  2. This has potential to be a great album, but it drags SO much in the middle that it's tough to warrant my purchase of this back in April...

    "Rising Up" is nearly ruined by Chrissette Michelle, but my 3 favorite tracks are: 75 bars, rising down, and criminal
    Saigon KILLS it.

  3. Good read.

    V-Man chose a good album to re-review, cause Max was so far off on that Gut Reaction. The Reader Reviews are starting to look up. Good shit, V-Man.

  4. And for the record...

    Game Theory > Rising Down

  5. Nice review, The V Man. And Max, you should keep on posting guest write-ups after this 'experiment'.

    Merry Xmas to Y'all!

  6. I like the Roots, and I liked Game Theory. I just don't like Black Thought... bah, i'll give this a try now. Dice Raw (juvinile terrorist) on 6 songs can't be bad...

  7. fuck is wrong with heads talking bout blah blah is not a word...did'nt the niggah just say it...this is hip hop, unrestricted artistic liscence to fuck with words.."orientated" has been a word in the hip hop lexicon since my nig said it in 88 (?), "internationable" is now added to that...we coigning phrases, sticking a fat dick in the english langwij, much like the English did with french and spanish and latin and blah blah...lets not have any more of this "___ is not a word" bs...and dude quoting lines and did'nt quote thougt in "singing man", you have any idea how powerful that spit was...and i still maintain that singing man is the shit...skatshuffle negro sing song meets real negro shit..str8 banging, granted the spoken word last part slowed it up a little...decent write up

  8. Dunno how to follow that last comment but here goes: A nice appraisal of one of the Roots finest albums (yeah, I said it too). But bonus tracks? I guess that's what happens when you impulsively buy records (y'know, those 12" shiny black disks? Not frisbees, the thing your grandad has in the loft and has just subjected you to at xmas).

    Nice job with the reader reviews too Max, although this is the only one I've commented on, they've all done a bang-up job, but get back to work and over-using italics in others work ;)