Monday, May 12, 2008
The Roots are the perfect American rock 'n' roll band, a kind of groove machine based on old skool hiphop, psychedelic soul, rock 'n' roll, the notion of the jam and obtuse riddims making for a sometimes hellbound passageway into the trance.
Then politics. This is serious afro-political agitation, a theme I go back to again and again in the endless quest for musical purity and truth; the emancipation of black races, the elucidation of the struggle, the rising of the underclasses, the things that must be heard. Soul, funk, Philly, reggae, hiphop of course, disco, house, techno.
On their newest, eighth album "Rising Down" - the title again filched from a political tract; drummer ?uestlove has said, incredibly, that the record is their most ''incendiary'' and ''political'' yet - it's an unapologetic, American-election-year fight for rights and justice in high volume the whole way. There was a sweet little ditty on it with the white singer from Fall Out Boy but they removed it because it didn't fit.
"I Will Not Apologise" - with floating members Dice Raw and Porn joining Black Thought and Talib Kweli on the mic - is the blueprint. Cosmic blackness, the newest danger, heavy shit, the real deal. The sample is from Fela Kuti, a sign in itself. It makes the intro sound like ''Christiansands'' by Tricky. What a load. What a sonic weight.
Check it: "...don’t blame the nigga/ blame America/ it's all business/actin' like a monkey is the only way to sell tickets/ shit, I can dig it/ niggas gossip silly digits white kids buy it its a riot/ when we talking about pimpin' or sippin on old English brew or whatever they think we do/ spraying double Uzis cause you know they think we live in zoos...''
the roots i will not apologise (mp3)
Then Erykah Badu joins the campaign. This a long journey from "Baduism" and all that light, night-light, tranquil blended nu-soul business. What she's done now is simple: she's made the boldest and most strident American hiphop record -- and the most deeply, deeply political -- since the one where Mos Def played heavy metal to get his point across.
"New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)" is ridiculous in its intensity. In part it's a paean to dead beloved producer J-Dilla; there's a handful of songs that use his premature end and the talent he held in his hands as a metaphor for the death of yet another young black American dream. One track, written with ?uestlove from The Roots, called "Telephone", is a kind of bizarre dreamscape conversation between Ol' Dirty Bastard, J Dilla's mother and Badu's own sense of the afterlife.
Producers are Madlib, Ninth Wonder and Sa-Ra. Georgia Anne Muldorow guests and even co-writes.
Badu is out on her own here. This is space rock gone hiphop gone desperate and combative. Apparently she'll drop a sequel before the end of the year. I've included the album opener "Amerykahn Promise" here not because it's representative but because it's totally the shit, the funkiest sister-dance since 'A Message From The Soul Sisters Part 1 & 2' by Vickie Anderson, and twice as orchestral. 'The Healer', however, is where she's at. Redemptive, dark, searching, hopeful, down, still strong, never weakened.
If somehow still unconvinced, somehow, read this. Or just cut straight to the New York Times, who also took an amazing photograph.
erykah badu amerykahn promise (mp3)
erykah badu the healer (mp3)
And finally, the pairing, from 1999. The birth of neo-soul. Real gone golden days.
the roots featuring erykah badu you got me (mp3)