Review: Rising Down by The Roots

From the archives of Smoovtunes.

By Mike G

The Roots are furious and they aren’t going to just sit back and take it anymore.  Okay, fine, they never have really sat back and just take anything, but, still, this fury is a force that continues to move to the forefront (the alliteration was too easy), beginning notably on 2006’s acclaimed Game Theory and appearing even more clearly on their eighth studio full-length, Rising Down (2008).  The difference between the outrage of Game Theory and that of Rising Down is a matter of scope.  Game Theory overwhelmingly takes place on a smaller level, whether focusing on concern over rising murder rates and deteriorating conditions in the ghettoes of The Roots’ native Philadelphia (“Don’t Feel Right”), or a tale of the more intensely personal (the cheating boyfriend and vengeful, spurned woman of “Baby”).  On Rising Down, Black Thought and the Roots aren’t settling for urban crime levels; they are going for the big fish this time.  “Shit’s poppin’ off worldwide,” Dice Raw declares in the chorus of the album’s second cut and title track, before Thought fearlessly tackles the universal issue of global warming.  That’s right, global warming.  Later in the album, in “I Will Not Apologize,” Black Thought takes on the will of the disenfranchised in America’s urban centers, tearing off rhymes like “Facing trouble with no alibi, had to swallow pride/Vilified, victimized, penalized, criticized,” and in “Singing Man” Thought goes off on figures such as former Liberian leader Charles Taylor and “foreign arms dealers”, embodying the spirit international gloom that the album presents.

Musically, the Roots have made another gritty, absorbing headphones album.  The beats as always are driven by ?uestlove’s deliberate drum work, except this time around his work is more often than not accompanied by brooding synths. The album’s guest appearances are only further proof of the overwhelming atmospherics of the work, as household names like Mos Def and Common deliver some of their fiercest rhymes in years.  Past Roots collaborators and Philly compatriots like Peedi Peedi, P.O.R.N., and former member Malik B. pop up often in equally ferocious appearances, including in tracks like “I Will Not Apologize” and “I Can’t Help It,” which, with the immediately previous, and clear album standout, “Criminal,” form the highpoint of the work, featuring big, prominent choruses.  From there, album closer “Rising Up,” which features a notable appearance from recently emergent DC area rapper Wale, is a call back to everything that has traditionally been identified with the Roots that is sure to please long-time fans, and does well to compliment the fury of the rest of Rising Down, which in all its bombastic outrage can leave the listener a little emotionally exhausted (in the best possible way, of course).

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