The Roots undun
undun is unlike any rap album I’ve ever heard before. It’s made up of 14 tracks with a running time amounting to only about 39 minutes, and of those 14 tracks, only nine actually feature any rapping.
It’s also a hip-hop concept album, which is one of those things that you read about and wonder, “why don’t people make these more often?” until you realize it’s usually a major pain in the ass trying to follow a storyline when the narration is flying by at six or seven words per measure.
And undun isn’t one of those Sgt. Pepper-y concept albums where the concept is something like, “the Beatles, under the guise of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, play a concert.
“undun is an existential re-telling of the short life of one Redford Stephens (1974-1999). Through the use of emotives and Redford’s internal dialogues the album seeks to illustrate the intersection of free will and prescribed destiny as it plays out ‘on the corner’.
Utilizing a reverse narrative arc, the album begins as the listener finds Redford disoriented—postmortem—and attempting to make sense of his former life. As he moves through its pivotal moments, he begins to deconstruct all that has led to his (and our own) coming undun.”
The Roots undun Review
Yeah, heavy shit. There aren’t many rap groups with the artistic skills (or the balls) to pull this off, but the Roots are definitely one of them. On the second track, “Sleep,” the Roots’ resident lyrical genius Black Thought spits 16 bars delivered from the point of view of a dying Redford reflecting back on his life: “Illegal activity controls my black symphony/Orchestrated like it happened incidentally/Oh, there I go, from a man to memory/Damn, I wonder if my fam will remember me.
The beats throughout the album provide mid-tempo, soulful backdrops that suggest a Southern, urban setting for the events depicted on the album (although Redford’s hometown is never explicitly stated).
It’s hard to select highlights because there aren’t any lowlights among the rap tracks, but the ironic gangsta-lifestyle celebration “Kool On” might boast the best hook on the disc. “Stomp” features Just Blaze going drill sergeant on the chorus (so you know it’s a hot track), and finds Black Thought “headed for the valley of the damned” and comparing hell to the Sudan.
Things change abruptly on the last four tracks of the album, however. “Redford,” “Possibility,” “Will To Power,” and “Finality” combine to form a four-movement piece that alternates between classical and jazz, as though someone took Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Muse’s “Exogenesis” and threw them in a blender.
The four tracks run a combined total of only five minutes, but it’s a jarring and unexpected way to end the album (if you’re listening without paying attention to what number track, you’re on, you’ll most likely be surprised when the music just stops all of a sudden).
After half an hour of sublime lyricism, undun could’ve used something more Rootsy and less artistic-with-a-capital-A to provide the finale. It’s about the musical equivalent of dumping caviar onto a fillet mignon. It’s no longer flawless, but you’d still be a fool for passing it up.
Undun is the tenth studio album by American hip hop band The Roots. It was released on December 2, 2011, by Def Jam Recordings. The album was recorded in sessions at several studios in Philadelphia and New York City. Production was handled primarily by Questlove, the band’s record producer and drummer. Wikipedia
Artist: The Roots
Release date: December 2, 2011
Genres: East Coast Hip-Hop, Hip-Hop/Rap