The Roots have always been one of my favorite groups of all time. I remember the first Roots album I ever listened to entitled Things Fall Apart in the seventh grade. It was my older step brother who put me on to them and told me to “stop listening to that garbage on the radio all the time.” Before The Roots, I was still the average casual listener of hip hop. If it wasn’t on the radio, I didn’t bother to listen to it. I was young and didn’t know any better. It was this album and the Reflection Eternal’s Train of Thought that changed my viewpoint of hip hop. The Roots made me realize that sometimes the best music is best to be searched for and won’t be played on your local radio station. You’re going to have to invest some quality time and attention to anything The Roots put out. This doesn’t change with Undun, which marks the 13th album for hip hop’s quintessential band.
Undun is a concept album following the life of the character Redford Stephens. Though the album is 14 songs, The Roots do a great job of creating a format in which each song flows fluidly. It takes a while for the album to really set in, but you soon find out that Redford’s story is actually being told from the ending at the beginning of the album with “Sleep”. From here, each song tells social commentary of Redford’s story and his decisions. In 2011, I commend The Roots for challenging the listeners. Instead of putting out the typical 16 bar and hook formula for an entire hour (as is the case with any album from them), they reinvent their sound with every project they drop. The musicality is great throughout Undun. The band providing live instruments will entice you to see them perform live.
There isn’t a real standout track, but that isn’t a bad thing either. The Roots do a great job of making sure each song is cohesive and is varied enough so it doesn’t get reduced to “background noise” (a la work music). There are some great instrumentals present on here, such as “Kool On” with soulful wailing in the background as Black Thought demonstrates again why he is one of the most underrated emcees of all time. The last four tracks are essentially the ending credits to this film that Thought, Dice Raw, and ?uestlove have laid down and are a great way to close the album. This being said, I do wish the album was longer. An album such as this needs to have more time to be digested because by the time you really get into it, the album is over before you know it.
If you are a fan of The Roots, there’s no question that this is an album you have to pick up. It does take a while to get a feel for this album, but that’s the case with just about anything they drop. I do enjoy picking up albums that don’t hit you right away and creep up on you. If you are the kind of listener in which the music has to grab your attention right away, then this album isn’t for you. If you are looking for music of substance to break up the monotony of your playlist, then this is something you can enjoy. I listen to plenty of nonsensical music, but also enjoy artists such as The Roots who push the envelope and keep the landscape of hip hop varied.