ALBUM REVIEW: The Roots – How I Got Over

by Marcus K. Dowling

This album didn’t have to end up this way. The Roots are pop stars now.

The Roots – The Day (feat. Blu, Phonte & Patty Crash)

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In 2010, let’s consider it impressive that the world’s most trendsetting hip hop band crafted an album as influenced by indie pop as by Curtis Mayfield. How I Got Over, The Roots’ 11th studio album is a celebratory album of the aims of the yearning of the human spirit, but still at the same time thoughtful, reflective and completed with the cautious optimism of intellectual souls. This album is informed most by Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” directive in the face of the farcical Bush administration, but trends deeper into a discussion of survivalist tendencies when dealing with soul crushing doubt and depression. The Roots have always been vocal and sonic poet laureates of the urban experience, and here is no different, possibly showing more focus than ever before, a concept speaking directly to the years of diligent work as a collective unit and a shared expression on this record. This is simply phenomenal hip hop, possibly the year’s best album to date, from a totally expected source for such acclaim.

This album didn’t have to end up this way. The Roots are pop stars now. Serving as Conan O’Brien’s Max Weinberg Seven or Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Orchestra or Arsenio Hall’s The Band to late night talk neophyte Jimmy Fallon, this could’ve turned out REALLY ugly. The Roots can play pretty much anything, their concerts becoming hip hop’s answer to the Grateful Dead or Phish, the “Legendary Roots Crew” taking concertgoers on trips that make as many stops through Brownsville Queens, NY and Ishkabibble’s on South Street in Philly as to the dank recesses of the eyes and ears of Kurt Cobain meandering through the grunge streets of Seattle. This album could’ve involved Weezer, Wacka Flocka, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, and well, the production and instrumentation would’ve still been dope. But this is a hip hop album by the best hip hop band of all time, guaranteed first ballot Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, so, yeah. We get Dice Raw, Peedi Peedi, Blu, Phonte of Little Brother, a masterful Joanna Newsom sample, the Monsters of Folk collaborative, and members of indie pop darlings the Dirty Projectors. One foot still squarely marching through the hood, yet another walking into Bonnaroo.

The Roots set an exquisite mood on this record. A fully and entirely live production, it flows seamlessly like a stream of consciousness conversation between instrumentalists, vocalists, and the universe. For instance, “Dear God 2.0,” the impressive already leaked single, features an impressive co-mingling of such magnitude that it feels more like a sermon than music. “Why is the world ugly when you made it in your image?/And why is livin’ life such a fight to the finish?/For this high percentage/When the sky’s the limit/A second is a minute, every hour’s infinite.” In writing and producing a track that speaks to the Lord, well, the band expressly tries their damndest to reach him. Jim James’ vocals on the hook, Black Thought’s intellectual preaching, and Questlove providing the backbone of the entire enterprise really takes that track in a rarefied direction.