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Rap - Released January 1, 2010 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions 4F de Télérama
The not-very-hip-hop Dirty Projectors, Monsters of Folk, Patty Crash, and Joanna Newsom contribute one way or another to How I Got Over. Rest assured, the ninth studio album from the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon house band is very much its own, and skeptics should be reminded that hip-hop history is filled with figures as unlikely as Billy Squier (who probably did not bump into Run-D.M.C. backstage at The Alan Thicke Show). Very much in line with recent albums like Game Theory and Rising Down, neither of which was tailored for a good time, How I Got Over is the most subdued of the three. The blood doesn’t really get pumping until the fifth track. Up to that point, however, the band creates some of its most downcast and alluring material, covering solitude, self-destruction, and just about every planetary ill. It’s all vividly conveyed through pensive arrangements, sobering rhymes, spooky choruses, and even spookier backing vocals. Truck North, P.O.R.N., Dice Raw, and Blu make gripping contributions, but no one cuts to the chase quite like Black Thought, who can condense modern reality into one deftly delivered and commanding line, like “Got immunized for both flus, I’m still sick.” From there, the spirit lifts a little, though the songs are still deeply planted in realism. The title track is modern soul-blues that cooks, assisted by some serious singing from Black Thought and an inspiring chorus from Dice Raw. On “Now or Never,” Phonte’s dejection (“My role was cast before I even auditioned for it”) is tempered with Dice Raw's glints of determination. For good measure, or perhaps for the sake of a little balance, the back half also features a hardcore boast session between Thought, Peedi Peedi, and Truck North that cannot be disregarded. This is yet another Roots album that lends itself to repeated, beginning-to-end listening. It is gracefully and cleverly sequenced, from the way the tracks melt into each other to the way “Doin’ It Again” utilizes John Legend's anguished “Again” prior to transitioning into the subtly anthemic “The Fire,” which features a fresh collaboration with…John Legend. ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released January 1, 2011 | Def Jam Recordings

Booklet Distinctions Sélection Les Inrocks

Pop - Released January 1, 1994 | DGC

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Because the Roots were pioneering a new style during the early '90s, the band was forced to draw its own blueprints for its major-label debut album. It's not surprising then, that Do You Want More?!!!??! sounds more like a document of old-school hip-hop than contemporary rap. The album is based on loose grooves and laid-back improvisation, and where most hip-hoppers use samples to draw songs together and provide a chorus, the Roots just keep on jamming. The problem is that the Roots' jams begin to take the place of true songs, leaving most tracks with only that groove to speak for them. The notable exceptions -- "Mellow My Man" and "Datskat," among others -- use different strategies to command attention: the sounds of a human beatbox , the great keyboard work of Scott Storch, and contributions from several jazz players (trombonist Joshua Roseman, saxophonist Steve Coleman and vocalist Cassandra Wilson). By the close of the album, those tracks are what the listener remembers, not the lightweight grooves. ~ John Bush

Rap - Released May 19, 2014 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions Top du mois de Jazznews
The Roots album graced by a Romare Bearden collage is less than half the length of each studio set the group released from 1995 through 2002. It might be the one that requires the most deep listening to absorb. Part of that can be attributed to the array of voices, or characters -- the widest variety of Roots guests yet. Given that, as well as the collage-like insertion of three preexisting recordings, it could be disregarded as less a Roots album than Wise Up Ghost, their Elvis Costello fling. Framed as conceptual, it's an examination of self-destructive cycles with materialism, god, and the devil all factors as much as any of the instrumentalists. In a way, it's one facet of the Roots in severely concentrated form. Black Thought, as ever, sharply portrays a man trying to make the most out of suffocating circumstances. He enters on the creeping dread of "Never," a song that also features Patty Crash in singing Talky Tina mode, with "I was born faceless in a oasis/Folks disappear here and leave no traces." On the following "When the People Cheer," he's even more penetrating and provocative, "Searchin' for physical pleasure if I don't go mental first." Those songs, along with the harder-hitting "Black Rock" and "Understand," are child's play relative to what follows. The album pivots on a jarring minute-length extract from experimental composer Michel Chion's "Requiem." Then, a chilling piano-and-strings ballad fronted by Mercedes Martinez stammers and slips into chaos. Over casually tense drums and piano, "The Dark (Trinity)" involves Black Thought, Dice Raw, and Greg Porn, who blur the line between boastful and despondent; Dice Raw's verse, where he wonders how he went from lusting after Jordans to wanting one of his "bitches" to get an abortion, is coldest of all. "The Unraveling" is a dejected shuffle -- proper support for Raheem DeVaughn's conflicting thoughts of rebirth and emptiness -- with a lullaby break. DeVaughn continues to lead on the finale, "Tomorrow," a sonically sprightly number that can be taken as sarcastic, from the whistled intro to the singer's "I'm thankful to be alive, 'cause you sleep from eleven to seven, and work hard from nine to five." When it seems like the simple and chipper rhythm is about to fade away, the piano switches course and shifts into one of the most gorgeous melodies heard on any Roots album. It crash-lands, abruptly ending an album that, depending on the amount of time spent with it, will seem either fragmentary and hollow or fathoms deep -- either a trifle or among the group's most remarkable work. ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released February 23, 1999 | Geffen

The Roots, a group formed in Philadelphia by MC Black Thought and drummer Questlove, took their music to a whole new level in their fourth album. Recorded with Common, Mos Def, Erykah Bady, D’Angelo and producer James Poyser, Things Fall Apart was recorded at the same time as D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate in the legendary Electric Lady studio. The album was a huge success when it was first released on February 23rd 1999 and is an impressive combination of the group’s two previous albums – the carefree Do You Want More?!!!??! and the grittier Illadelph Halflife. Whilst they always give pride of place to their improvised live sessions, they have got their samples and loops in this album down to a fine art. And whether it’s through telling a story, a social commentary or purely an egotistical perspective, Black Thought certainly isn’t holding anything back when it comes to his vocals. The Roots keep the groove going throughout the entire album, from the cutting edge Step Into the Realm with its beat that fades in and out, to the neo soul hit You Got Me, with guest appearances from Jazzy Jeff (The Next Movement) and Jay Dee, aka J Dilla (Dynamite!) to top it off. Things Fall Apart was the first of many great albums from the new era led by the Soulquarians collective (a diatribe against mainstream rap, like Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ New) and was a source of inspiration for Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp A Butterfly. To celebrate its 20th birthday this brilliant album now comes in Deluxe edition; full of alternative versions as well as live and previously unreleased tracks. A must-have! © Damien Besançon/Qobuz

Rap - Released January 1, 2004 | Geffen

One of the cornerstone albums of alternative rap's second wave, Things Fall Apart was the point where the Roots' tremendous potential finally coalesced into a structured album that maintained its focus from top to bottom. If the group sacrifices a little of the unpredictability of its jam sessions, the resulting consistency more than makes up for it, since the record flows from track to track so effortlessly. Taking its title from the Chinua Achebe novel credited with revitalizing African fiction, Things Fall Apart announces its ambition right upfront, and reinforces it in the opening sound collage. Dialogue sampled from Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues implies a comparison to abstract modern jazz that lost its audience, and there's another quote about hip-hop records being treated as disposable, that they aren't maximized as product or as art. That's the framework in which the album operates, and while there's a definite unity counteracting the second observation, the artistic ambition actually helped gain the Roots a whole new audience ("coffeehouse chicks and white dudes," as Common puts it in the liner notes). The backing tracks are jazzy and reflective, filled with subtly unpredictable instrumental lines, and the band also shows a strong affinity for the neo-soul movement, which they actually had a hand in kick-starting via their supporting work on Erykah Badu's Baduizm. Badu returns the favor by guesting on the album's breakthrough single, "You Got Me," an involved love story that also features a rap from Eve, co-writing from Jill Scott, and an unexpected drum'n'bass breakbeat in the outro. Other notables include Mos Def on the playful old-school rhymefest "Double Trouble," Slum Village superproducer Jay Dee on "Dynamite!," and Philly native DJ Jazzy Jeff on "The Next Movement." But the real stars are Black Thought and Malik B, who drop such consistently nimble rhymes throughout the record that picking highlights is extremely difficult. Along with works by Lauryn Hill, Common, and Black Star, Things Fall Apart is essential listening for anyone interested in the new breed of mainstream conscious rap. ~ Steve Huey

Rap - Released January 1, 2008 | Geffen


Rap - Released January 1, 2004 | Geffen*


Rap - Released January 1, 1999 | Geffen*

Releasing an album recorded live in concert makes more sense for the Roots than any other hip-hop artist, considering they've always concentrated on live prowess over their skills on the mic or in the production booth. The standard guitar/drums/bass/keyboards lineup of most rock bands is a reality for this group, and after years of requests from rabid fans, the Roots acquiesced with a document of their live experience, titled The Roots Come Alive. Recorded at two venues in New York and one in Paris, the album distills exactly what the Roots bring to the hip-hop world -- a live experience built on call-and-response vocals that bring the show to the audience like few other artists. The sound is fantastic, especially on early keyboard-driven tracks like "Proceed," "Essaywhuman?!???!!!," and "Mellow My Man." Though the raps themselves often suffer from the live setting, the rhythms are crisper than in the studio, and the bass-driven grooves are much beefier. The Roots' resident turntablist, Scratch, takes a large role as well, as does human beatbox Rahzel the Godfather of Noyze (though the latter only appears on about half of the album). This is a live album that not only satisfies fans, but offers neophytes more entertainment than any of the Roots' studio efforts. It's difficult to make any live album a first pick, but Come Alive displays the group doing exactly what it does best. ~ John Bush

Rap - Released January 1, 2012 | DGC

For the Roots' second major-label album, the band apparently recognized the weaknesses of the debut, since there are several songs which provide more structure than previous jam-session efforts -- two even became R&B radio hits. But for all its successes, Illadelph Halflife mostly repeats the long-winded jams and loose improvisatory feel that characterized Do You Want More?!!!??!. And while these songs may sound great live (a field where the Roots excel over any other rap act), in a living-room setting listeners need hooks on which to focus. ~ John Bush

Rap - Released July 13, 2004 | Geffen*


Rap - Released January 1, 2006 | Def Jam Recordings

Game Theory is the Roots' equivalent of a Funkadelic playlist containing "Wars of Armageddon," "Cosmic Slop," "Maggot Brain," "March to the Witch's Castle," and "America Eats Its Young." It's a vivid reflector of the times, not an escape hatch (of which there are several readily available options). Spinning turbulence, paranoia, anger, and pain into some of the most exhilarating and startling music released in 2006, the group is audibly galvanized by the world's neverending tailspin and a sympathetic alignment with Def Jam. Batting around stray ideas and squeezing them into shape was clearly not part of the plan, and neither was getting on the radio. The songs flow into and out of one another to optimal effect, with an impossibly stern sense of peak-of-powers focus, as if the group and its collaborators instantly locked into place and simply knocked the thing out. With the exception of the elbow-throwing "Here I Come," nothing here is suitable for any kind of carefree activity. The extent of the album's caustic nature is tipped off early on, after glancing at the hangman on the cover and hearing Wadud Ahmad's penetrating voice run through lines like "Pilgrims, slaves, Indians, Mexicans/It looks real f*cked up for your next of kin." The point at which the album kicks into full gear, just a couple minutes later, arrives when tumbling bass drums and a Sly & the Family Stone sample ("This is a game/I'm your specimen") are suddenly overtaken by pure panic -- pulse-racing drums, anxious organ jabs, pent-up guitar snarls, and breathless rhyming from Black Thought and Malik B. "In the Music" exemplifies the deeply textured nature of the album's production work, with its rolling/roiling rhythm -- throbbing bass, clanging percussion, tight spirals of guitar -- made all the more claustrophobic by Porn's amorphous chorus and Black Thought's and Malik B.'s hunched-shoulder deliveries. Even "Baby," the closest thing to a breather in this patch of the album, arises from a sweltering jungle bog. After "Long Time," the ninth track, the levels of tension and volume decrease, yet the moods are no brighter, even if the surfaces leave a different impression. "Clock with No Hands" is introduced as a sweet slow jam with a light vocal hook from Mercedes Martinez, but it's as paranoid as anything else on the album. Jack Davey projects the chorus of the slower, Radiohead-sampling "Atonement" in a druggy haze while Black Thought speaks of "being faced with the weight of survival." The closer, an eight-minute suite titled "Can't Stop This," features a J Dilla production -- previewed on his Donuts, released the week he left this planet -- that opens and closes with testimonials to the musician's talent and humanity. Taken with or without this staggering finale, Game Theory is a heavy album, the Roots' sharpest work. It's destined to become one of Def Jam's proudest, if not most popular, moments. ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released January 1, 2005 | Geffen


Rap - Released January 1, 2005 | Geffen


Rap - Released September 20, 2019 | Active Driveway LTD


Rap - Released February 23, 1999 | Geffen


Pop - Released January 1, 1994 | Geffen


Rap - Released May 27, 2016 | Passyunk Productions


The Roots in the magazine
  • Rap going back to its Roots…
    Rap going back to its Roots… The 11th album from the Philadelphia collective proves The Roots can still pack a punch…
  • The Qobuz Minute #13
    The Qobuz Minute #13 Presented by Barry Moore, The Qobuz Minute sweeps you away to the 4 corners of the musical universe to bring you an eclectic mix of today's brightest talents. Jazz, Electro, Classical, World music ...