The Roots: How I Got Over

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Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

theroots00Timely record using the blueprint of black power, Gil Scott-Heron poetry and early ’70’s soul puts The Roots very close to a modern hip-hop ode of What’s Going On

At the height of neo-soul’s uprising, The Roots came out of the box with their creative, refreshing perspective of blending the live instrumentation and density of soul music into hip-hop culture. With musical director Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson at the wheel of their infectious original beats and refreshing lyricists providing the smart, intellectual rhymes, their material – while still submersed into a sub-genre of alternative rap – and their live shows gave them the kind of notiriety that surrounds the best underground rock bands. Probably on a mission to prove they are more than just a token late-night band (the back-up group for Jimmy Fallon), The Roots muscles up the strength to issue out their ninth studio album How I Got Over. A bit different from their last two powerful works (Rising Down, Game Theory), How I Got Over points the band, along with special guests Blu, Phonte, P.O.R.N and Dice Raw, in a more spiritual direction while dealing with the downtrodden realities of the present-day. It’s not as bleak and dark as Rising Down, but it isn’t the epiphany it’s cracked up to be. Don’t let the gospel hymn album title fool you, this isn’t a gospel album.

The first set of songs on How I Got Over blend right into one another, like one seamless concert. After being tranced by the opening wordless prelude (“A Peace of Light”), “Walk Alone” with its organic piano and reflective melody allows the cast to open up about the hell of their realities (“I’m a snake in the garden of bones/I’m a loner in a world of clones/I’m the piece that don’t belong, see I roam/Where the reaper roam til they put my name on a stone”). The gloom gets darker and bleaker as the journey pursues, but the bad dream fades as signs of hope, like a thin light, pierces itself into the atmosphere on cuts like the Monsters of Folk-revived “Dear God 2.0″ The grooves are delightfully soulful and enriched with gripping arrangements – bearing well-seasoned images of the ‘70’s black conscious soul of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. “Radio Daze,” tapped with the simple piano chords of Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat,” paints a picture of optimism as the tempo of the album begins to increase. Both “Now or Never” and the title cut, while still dealing with the traps of poverty, are second-generation versions of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. You can feel the limbo of Dice Raw reaching for shiny ideals (“I’m trying to get rid of these ghosts that’s cursing me/I feel a change is an absolute certainty”) while Phonte suffers with a lack of options (“Mom’s out the picture and Pops, I barely knew Him/I would pray to God but I’m tired of lying to Him”). But the crisp chorus – locked down with Curtis Mayfield gusto- is what becomes the emergency door for the claustrophobic thoughts. On the title track, more energy and soulful swag courtesy of Mayfield’s “Move On Up” (minus the big horns) is encountered. Ironically, the lyrics predominately leaves one wondering if there really is an answer. It uses the familiar gospel hymn title as a “how-to” guide out of depression, but with lyrics as blunt and tough as (“A living in the hood where the shots are fired/We dying to live, so to live we dying/You just like I am”), there isn’t too many ways out. If you aren’t paying close attention, the silver lining is revealed in the opening lines of the first verse: “How I got over/Where the people come apart/Don’t nobody care about cha/Only thing you got is God.” “The Day” and “The Fire,” the latter featuring a standout indie rock sound and John Legend’s accompanying vocals, zooms in on healthier images of hope and endurance. It makes sense to slide these answered prayers to the back of the disc, since it makes sense holistically for the album. After being awakened from a dreamy angelic prelude, like a crossing over experience, How I Got Over then faces an onslaught of challenges from the cold wars of our reality. This is how The Roots turns an obviously depressing morbid record into a wisely executed, timely record.

With the tapestry of Gil Scott-Heron and the jazzy soul of Donny Hathaway, How I Got Over couldn’t have come at a better time. It remains one of their shortest records (clocking in at only 42 minutes long), but during this economic recession and its constant gloomy headlines there’s no need to tarry forever about sorrow. While it isn’t the “way out” it could have been or should have been, The Roots points listeners, whether they are a victim or not, in the right direction.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 22 Jun 2010
  • Label: Def Jam
  • Producers: Black Thought, Questlove, Dice Raw, Rick Friedrich
  • Track Favs: The Fire, Now or Never, Radio Daze, The Day, Dear God 2.0, Walk Alone

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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