Evidently, while discussing the overall feel of his band’s most recent album, Black Thought opined that it had a more positive message than 2008’s Rising Down. Still, if you were expecting some sort of lighthearted album with a couple of nice summer jams, then you have come to the wrong place. The Roots may be “late night now like Here’s Johnny,” but they are still The Roots, and they will dumb it down for no man. Though a touch dark at the beginning, How I Got Over will make it such that no one forgets any time soon that The Legendary Roots Crew are still the best musicians in the game. Of course, Black Thought is no slouch on the mic, and with several excellent guest appearances, How I Got Over becomes yet another solid release from The Roots.
The Roots became the house band on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show in March 2009, which left fans of their live performances with precious few chances to catch them out at a venue, and, sadly, their performance at Earth Day was frequently marred by sound system malfunctions. Their LNJF Sandwiches (check it out if you want to spice up your iPhone ringtone Roots-style) were some of the only material available. Personally, I am impressed that the band found the time to record a full album while pulling double duty late at night, though I guess we shouldn’t expect anything less from such a dynamic group.
Until the title track ‘How I Got Over,’ the album dwells in rather dark territory reminiscent of Rising Down. “The road to perdition/guess I’m gonna get my plea on,” Black raps on ‘Walk Alone’ after verses from Roots regulars Truck North and P.O.R.N. “Trying to keep a singing man sane for the paying fans,” continues ‘Dear God 2.0,’ which laments the “Acid rain, earthquakes, hurricane, tsunamis” that leave Black “breakin’ it down/without an answer.”
Despite the dark message, I was super excited (and surprised) to hear the unmistakable voice of up and coming rapper Blu opening ‘Radio Daze.’ Apologies for the diversion here, but y’all, Blu is THE SHIT. He made it on a lot of “young rapper to watch” lists last year, but got low marks because he didn’t put out any material. Still, his ‘Soul Amazing’ mixtape from 2008 is still solidly entrenched in my playlist. Dude even raps over bluegrass and Spanish guitar beats (among many others) and kills it. If you need a good summer rap mixtape, look http://www.mediafire.
com/?td3ybnyctut”>no further. It is worth mentioning that The Roots collaborated with Joanna Newsome (Right On), the Monsters of Folk (Dear God 2.0), and even Haley Dekle of the Dirty Projectors (Peace of Light) on this album. Clearly, they are not shying away from their more experimental… uh … roots. Even songs like ‘Peace of Light’ and ‘Tunnel Vision’, both sans lyrics, are well done.
How I Got Over is an album that starts dark buts get brighter. In fact, it seems that The Roots had a message in mind when they recorded it and placed the track order. The chorus of the title track seems to sum it up—“that type of thinking can get you nowhere, someone has to care.” As the album winds down we see a more hopeful message. “Whole new blueprint/Brand new layout” raps Phonte on ‘The Day,’ and Black wants to “move like a wise warrior and not a coward” on ‘The Fire.’ The albums final track, ‘Hustla,’ was the only one that I could genuinely not handle. The auto-tune baby cries make for quite a weird song, the album’s only miss. With plenty of interesting musicianship (if Kanye can be K-West, can’t we also have Q-Uest, am I wrong???) and still ample space for Black Thought to do what he does best, How I Got Over impresses. Lastly, if you haven’t had a chance to see The Roots live in concert, you really ought to do so. Not because I think they are going to stop touring or something, but because it will be worth the price of admission wherever they happen to be playing.
-- Mark Waterman