The Roots may be a humble band, but their music is anything but. As each fan will come to know, what you hear on the actual disc doesn’t live up to being front and center with the Grammy-winning band. Until you hear them live (and not just on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”), their music isn’t given the justice it deserves.
Therefore, every tastemaker and blogger that entered New York City’s Legacy Studios for a listening session of How I Got Over (June 22), the group’s ninth studio album, had high expectations. What they were met with was a sound that started at 0 mph and eventually made its way to a sonic boom of 120. The project boasts the full sound fans have come to love from The Roots, with thought-provoking material and progressive attitudes—not to mention guest appearances from the likes of John Legend, Little Brother’s Phonte, and rap newcomer Sugar Tongue Slim.
Read on for Rap-Up.com’s track-by-track preview.
1. “Walk Alone” featuring Truck North, Porn, Dice Raw, and Mercedes Martinez
With an intro with voices resembling chiming bells to the syllable of “doo,” the album starts off uncomplicated. The sound later merges with the clashing of drums and cymbals, meshing with the song’s start. A union of high, then low keys creates a dramatic effect on the piano, later joined by short skips on the electric guitar. With a slow entry, the track talks of the ails of being lonely “since the day I was born.” The song laments about being on the “Road to Perdition,” all while weighed down by a hollow feeling of solitude.
2. “Dear God 2.0 featuring Jim James and MOF
In what seems to be a sound-filled pause, the first single presents itself as a plea letter to the Most High which is addressed, “Dear God, I’m trying Lord to reach you. Dear God, I see your face in all I do. Sometimes it’s so hard to believe in, but God I know you have your reasons.” The sound is slow and pensive as the hard questions are asked to the Creator: “Corporate monopoly/ Asking God why do we suffer?” The only response: that there’s nothing to do but to keep on believing.
3. “Radio Daze” featuring Blu, Porn, Dice Raw, and Mercedes Martinez
There is a heavy piano relay into this song, which is a dark but rhythmic groove. Being fed up and promoting combat when frustrated about the status quo, the tune is pushing for us to “start a war…if you’re sick and tired of your ‘access denied.'” The chorus is a reflection of the 1930s and 1940s, the Satellite Age. There is a synthesizer that can be heard near the end, along with the tuning of a television, which becomes the transition to the next track.
4. “Now or Never” featuring Phonte Coleman and Dice Raw
With this song’s stress upon carpe diem, Black Thought ponders, “Ready to start acting my age and part ways with Black Thought from back in the days.” The progressive track reveals that man can save himself and make himself better. Phonte and Dice support the enlightenment: “I feel a change is an absolute certainty because what’s going on is a state of emergency.” A synthesized piano accompanies the mid-tempo cut.
5. “How I Got Over” featuring Dice Raw
The bitter realities of the streets push this speedy hipster track with what sounds like a sample, but is really not. “Out on the streets where I grew up/ First thing they teach ya’s not to give a f***/ That type of thinking can’t get you nowhere/ Someone has to care,” cries a bellowed chorus. The ghetto is referred to as a “war zone,” in which one has to live “in suspended animation.”
6. “The Day” featuring Blu, Phonte Coleman, and Patty Crash
Another farce sample, this time a young woman sings the refrain: “When I wake up, look in the mirror, I can see a clear vision/ I should start living today.” The uplifting track boasts of the thought-provoking, nostalgic feel of composers Bill Lee and Stevie Wonder. The confirmation that “today’s gonna be the day” pushes the real start of a resolution.
7. “Right On” featuring Joanna Newsom and Sugar Tongue Slim
With a sharp voice, Joanna offers a slightly inaudible and sample-esque refrain. The song is quick-tempoed and will undoubtedly move everyone to the dance floor.
8. “Doin’ It Again” featuring John Legend
Picture the beginning of almost every movie where the cameraman pans over the city from a plane. This song would be playing, while a perturbed Black Thought complains about old friends who used to know him no longer recognizing his face. “Fans swear by me even though I’m midnight now like James Gotti,” he ponders over change.
9. “The Fire” featuring John Legend and Rick Friedrich
Nineties rap gets a shout out, and this record is straight for the streets. There is a piano bang on each beat of an eight-count, and the third pseudo-sampled chorus of “There’s something in your eyes…let it burn,” dabbles over the beat. Here they triumph over naysayers and haters alike, “David and Goliath, made it through the eye of the storm,” while powerfully staking their claim: “The highest victory is what I meant to take/ I hate to sing and refuse to make the same mistake.”
10. Bonus Track
Following an interlude of The Roots’ freestyle jam, lo and behold there is a club banger. Black Thought aka “sharp as a tack” lightheartedly goes in on his flyness, bragging, “When I’m on stage, girls fight for my glasses.” Following the sound of low sirens in the background are synthesizers being turned up, while the lyrics boast of having a scratch “like a feline” and making money.