To say that The Roots are one of the best groups in hip-hop is a gross misunderstatement. There’s not a group in hip-hop right now that comes close to them, and there’s not really many others out at the moment in any style that can touch what The Roots are currently doing.
I’ve been a fan since 2002’s Phrenology, an amazing mix of hip-hop, pop, rock, punk, psychedelic, and pretty much anything else you can think of. It was a bit spotty, but, overall, I really enjoyed it. I fell in love half-way through the album, and I’ve yet to look back. I picked up all their previous work, and, when The Tipping Point dropped in 2004, I was all ears. At first, I was a bit disappointed. It seemed as though they weren’t pressing forward or experimenting as much. They stripped down their sound…much more basic. That one took me a bit more to get into. But, once I did, I couldn’t stop myself from listening to it every single day. It wasn’t long before I proclaimed it their best album.
That experience taught me this one thing: never put expectations on The Roots. Ever. There are few groups that I can actually say that about anymore, but, with The Roots, you never know what to expect from album to album.
So when I heard they had a new one coming out, I decided not to read anything about it until it actually came out. No need getting my hopes up, or setting up expectations that didn’t amount to anything. When it came out, I’d hear it and make up my own mind.
However, when I finally heard Game Theory for the first time, I still felt a little let down. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Did it not seem together? Did the songs not flow into each other? It was a bit darker than I was prepared for, so maybe that was a part of it.
Over the next couple of weeks, I listened to it about twice a week…just enough to feel it out. At the end of those 2 weeks, I was in. Fully and completely. Even now, months after it was released, I can’t stop listening to it.
The sound is fuller than on The Tipping Point. There are more guest appearances and samples on this album, but they never distract from the core group, and they never take anything away from the actual song (except for a brief moment on “Long Time”, but that’s only for about 1 second).
The group is tight. ?uestlove is an absolute master on the drums…I could listen to that dude play solo all day. Between his drumming and Hub’s impressive bass lines, there’s not really a better rhythm section around. Capt. Kirk Douglas’ guitar is on full display here, always in the background, but always worth listening for. And Kamal Gray is exceptional on the keyboards.
And Black Thought? Well…Black Thought continues to be one of the best (and, sadly, one of the most overlooked) MC’s in the business. Lyrically he can’t be beat, and his flow is second to none. It’s been said for a while now that he’s at his best when he’s angry, and you can certainly hear that here. He doesn’t just rap…he spits. And it’s incredible.
Every track on here is amazing. From the angry, political “False Media” and “Game Theory” to the great vocal hook on “Don’t Feel Right”, to the quasi-R&B of “Baby” to the driving, synth-heavy “Here I Come” to the dirge-esque, Radiohead-sampled “Atonement”, all the way down to the chilling finale, a tribute to their good friend (and hip-hop legend) J-Dilla. There’s not a single song on here that isn’t absolutely incredible.
And that’s the story of The Roots. They do what they do very well. Sometimes they play it a little closer to the vest than normal, but I think that’s just to prove to the world that they can beat the other hip-hop “artists” at their own game. Yet, when they decide to experiment a little, do things a little different…well, they’re the best in the game at that, too. And, hopefully, it’ll only be a short time before the rest of the world sees this, too.
Essential Tracks: “Game Theory”, “Don’t Feel Right”, “In the Music”
Favorite Tracks: “Here I Come”, Atonement”