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...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

The Roots - 2014

The Roots have now been putting out albums for nearly 2 decades. They’ve had many lineup changes, collaborated with everyone from Jay Z to Elvis Costello, and become the preeminent late night band. They continue to have no equal in the rap world. Between their musicianship, Black Thought’s lyrics, and their creativity, they are always putting out quality music and adventurous releases. All of this being said, “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” is not their best album. It’s probably not their 5th or 6th best album. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good album. It’s just that when it’s held up with the others, this one’s not at the top. The Roots have never shied away from dark material throughout their career, but ATYSYC is possibly their darkest album yet. On their brilliant 2011 concept album “Undun”, they tell the story of a street thug from death to birth, and even with the dark story line on that album there are moments of positivity. ?uestlove described the idea behind this album as being a response to modern hip hop albums. Most rap albums are filled with boastful, ego driven lyrics. Rappers boast about their cars and watches, stacks of money, and of course lots and lots of women. ATYSYC is meant to be realistic. Each character comes to grips with their lot in life. Frequent Roots guest Dice Raw spouts on "Black Rock”, "Hey what's for breakfast?/Same as yesterday/Oh that's right, cheeseburger and a 40 ounce/Hey,what's for dinner?/Nothing nigga/But last night I had dreams of a porterhouse” On “Understand” Black Thought says, "Lost between sips of liquor, that empty bottle in my hands/It was a shot away, but I never got away/Dreamed a little dream of me, but that was an anomaly” While Undun was a complete concept album telling a linear (although backwards) story, ATYSYC is described as an opera by the group. ?uestlove has said that now that they are on their 16th album, and in their 40’s, The Roots need to “say something” with their music. Gone are the days when they were a young hip hop collective, just trying to lay down funky beats and win the MC wars. Their albums are well thought out, with lush string arrangements, varied instrumentation, thoughtful samples, and their guest spots usually fit seamlessly with the theme of the album. They purposely kept their last two albums short, so that the difficult, layered themes can be ingested in one sitting. It’s a necessary choice, as long concept albums are often too much for the listener to absorb in single sittings. This album, more than any of their others, requires multiple listens to really delve into. (I’m talking 10+ listens before you form any opinion) So, what is there not to like? While one of The Roots strengths is that they defy convention and continue to evolve, they do have some constants that you crave with every album. To start, possibly their greatest asset, is Black Thought. He’s built a songbook of lyrics at this point that rivals any other rapper ever. He’s thoughtful, clever, funny, and thought provoking. (pun intended) ATYSYC just doesn’t have enough Black Thought! The short runtime of the album, along with the musical passages and guest spots, just don’t leave enough space to quench your Black Thought thirst. The arrangements are necessary, and the guest vocals meticulously planned, but that doesn’t stop my need for more! When he does show up he’s as good as ever, but the album could have been better served by letting him stretch his vocal legs more. One thing that most rap albums have in common are guest spots. The genre lends itself nicely to it, and usually, even when it works, it feels like an outsider has come by to sit in. The Roots have done a great job over the years of including guest verses that are seamless with the songs. On this album Dice Raw and Greg Porn are back, and they have their nice moments, but they don’t lift the songs to new heights the way they (and Big Krit, among others) did on recent albums Undun and How I Got Over. One baffling choice is to have Dice Raw sing the hook on "Black Rock". A big pet peeve of mine is when rappers try to sing. (See Kanye’s lesser, auto tuned work) Dice is fine when the hook is rapped, as on “Understand”, but his terrible singing on the hook to "Black Rock” almost ruins an otherwise great track. I just don’t get why The Roots would make that choice, given their usual guest vocalists. When taken for how it’s intended, ATYSYC makes a lot of sense and continues The Roots output of quality material. It is flawed, but the good far outweighs the bad. There simply isn’t enough of this type of thing in hip hop. The genre has grown quite a bit over the last few years to allow for many innovators, none more than these guys. They continue to take new directions and leave you curious to see where they go next.

Posted by Tambe

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Comments

11 tracks. Six of them under 3 minutes long. Three of those under two minutes.

Posted over 4 years ago by MoiAndrew Scott

I find it tough to listen to rappers who are extremely successful (and rich), no matter if they be of a different feather from the mainstream guys, try and take on personas of the everyday man and the failings and hard times they are up against. It would be like me talking about how hard it is living in a sewer while being crippled and poor. I'm just not dealing with any of those things so would you take me seriously if I made an entire album out of it? They should stick to being visual stenographers. Smart story tellers. Not try and prove that in their 40's they are still running with the common man on the streets. They stopped doing that decades ago.

Posted over 4 years ago by MoiAndrew Scott

I have to agree with your point, but I think it's a bit off base. I do see them as storytellers. This one isn't a concept album with a specific character, like the last one, but it's more a range if characters in the sort if opera they're creating. Whether they hit that target is debatable, but I think they actually are aiming for what you're looking for. Which is a good thing.

Posted over 4 years ago by TambegifTambe

Posted: 05/31/2014

Review by:

Tambegif

Tambe