on May 14, 2008
Grammy award winning hip hop outfit The Roots release their tenth studio album with mixed results.
There are some great collaborations and typically hard-hitting lyrics, but while it prides itself on being far removed from the generic `gangsta' sound dominating mainstream hip-hop at the moment, it lacks some really killer beats.
The usual cast of cameos makes its appearances - Common, Dice Raw, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, among others.
Maybe they got lost on the politics, though, as there seems to be more emphasis on the lyrics than usual. As drummer and band leader Amir "Questlove" Thompson puts it: "This record is about 2008 being an election year, about record crime figures, high school drop-out figures, about being in your mid-thirties and working 300 nights a year".
Indeed, the political nature of "Rising Down" is not only heard in the music, as the title of the album comes from William T Vollmann's treatise on violence, entitled "Rising Up and Rising Down".
As such, it's an album of its time, that has plenty to say to those willing to listen.
It is mature and The Roots certainly seem to be growing in confidence with each new release.
But while its admirable in content, it would have been better to hear a few more killer cuts.
It is not the easiest or prettiest album to listen to. The Roots demand some attention,
My highlights: "Criminal","Singing Man", and "Lost Desire".
And there's a laidback quality to the sensual "Rising Up", featuring some fine swirling piano and a good vocal trade-off between Tariq's urban flow and Chrisette Michelle's soulful backing.
While the aforementioned tracks really do stand out, the album could have used more of them.
Sadly, tracks like "The Show" waste the presence of Common, while Mos Def and Styles P cannot save the title track from mediocrity.
The overall result is a good hip hop album rather than a really great one.
Hip hop fans should dig it, especially Roots afficionados, and their non-conformist attitude is to be applauded. But maybe we've greedily come to expect more.