Earlier in December, Patrice Evans of Grantland.com brought up the question, “Who is ‘America’s Band’?” When breaking it down, throwing out imports such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and bands that weren’t able to stay around and give longevity to their catalog such as Nirvana, he was left with only one logical answer: The Roots. The Philadelphia collective has become the most versatile musical entity in recent memory. They’ve gone from churning out hip-hop classics such as Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart to helping Jay-Z recreate his classics in the resurgence of MTV’s Unplugged series, teaming with John Legend and becoming the hardest working musicians in show business.
In addition to becoming the coolest thing about late-night television, tirelessly working as the house band for NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, they’ve somehow managed to squeeze in the aforementioned Legend collaboration (Wake Up!), the full-length record How I Got Over and drummer ?uestlove has mastered the world of Twitter, become a leading political figure and still finds time to whisk himself away from 30 Rock every week to DJ at hipster-haven Brooklyn Bowl. Now they’ve given up even more sleep to bless the world with their latest release, Undun.
Undun is a concept album that is based upon the life of a fictional character named Redford Stevens, a nod to indie darling Sufjan Stevens. It plays like the movie one would expect from The Roots when attempting something like this: a seamless story that sees guests and their own crew tell the tale of Stevens.
Although attacking the art in a different way, the diversion into a concept album as opposed to a classic hip-hop release, does not find the band diverting from the classic sound that got them where they are today. As the story opens with the instrumental track, “Dun,” the stage is set for a Roots album.
The band tackles obstacles in Stevens’ path, like on “Sleep” where guest vocalist Aaron Livingston sings, “I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams and I do not miss them yet.” Although telling a story, each track is not relegated to the story alone, allowing each to be its own entity within the metaphor. “Make My” is still on that search for rest while “One Time” calls in the efforts of Phonte and Dice Raw to accompany Black Thought.
Stevens travels the path and searches for memories on tracks such as “The OtherSide” where he asks to be left “with a little bit of diginity.” while “Stomp” gives Just Blaze a crack at things.
Part poetry, part symphony, Undun is a piece unto itself. It’s a departure, but not really. It’s truly a Roots album in the sense that only The Roots could pull something like this off.
The Roots – Undun tracklist:
- “Make My” (featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Dice Raw)
- “One Time” (featuring Phonte and Dice Raw)
- “Kool On” (featuring Greg Porn and Truck North)
- “The OtherSide” (featuring Bilal and Greg Porn)
- “Stomp” (featuring Greg Porn and Just Blaze)
- “Lighthouse” (featuring Dice Raw)
- “I Remember”
- “Tip the Scale” (featuring Dice Raw)
- “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” (performed by Sufjan Stevens)
- “Possibility (2nd Movement)”
- “Will to Power (3rd Movement)”
- “Finality (4th Movement)”