Follow Us on Twitter

The Roots - Rising Down

The Roots, Rising Down

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

GRAMMY award winning hip hop outfit The Roots release their eighth 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.

Maybe they got lost on the politics, though, as there seems to be more emphasis on the lyrics than usual, with even Guestlove stating: “This is probably our most political album to date, dealing with addiction, nihilism, hypocritical double standards in the prison system and overall life in Philadelphia.

“I’d say it’s more mature and intense than all of our efforts, but not a ‘downer’ as most people expect us to do.”

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”. Its release date also falls on the 16th anniversary of the LA riots that were sparked by the acquittal of the police officers accused of beating Rodney King.

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, I still wanted to hear a few more killer cuts.

Of the highlights, Criminal is an early fave, benefitting from one of the smoothest beats and melodies on the LP and dropping a cracking chorus along with soulful vocal collaborations from Saigon and Truck North. It’s designed as a reflection of life on the streets and unjust persecution.

Singing Man, meanwhile, weaves some more good vocal work with a jagged, urgent back beat and builds to a strong chorus, while the smooth grooving style of Mercedes Martinez ensures that Unwritten emerges as one of the sultriest cuts on the LP.

Lost Desire is one that combines more powerful social commentary with a backbeat capable of easy dancefloor appeal, while 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.

Birthday Girl, meanwhile, adds some welcome guitar loops and a clever guest vocal from Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump that should easily broaden their appeal in single form, while possibly generating more attention for the LP. It’s a great way to finish, leaving you to mull over the preceding 14 tracks in suitably upbear fashion.

But 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.

Download picks: Lost Desire, Criminal, Birthday Girl, Rising Up, Unwritten

Track listing:

  1. Pow Wow
  2. Rising Down
  3. Get Busy
  4. @ 15
  5. 75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)
  6. Becoming Unwritten
  7. Criminal
  8. I Will Not Apologise
  9. I Can’t Help It
  10. Singing Man
  11. Unwritten
  12. Lost Desire
  13. Show
  14. Rising Up
  15. Birthday Girl
  16. Grand Return
  17. Pow Wow [part 2]