Thursday, August 31, 2006

Game, Set, Match!

The legendary group The Roots dropped their 9th album a couple of days ago to much anticipation. When I read the email from our very own Brother Smartness about how he stayed up till 4am listening to the new Roots album Game Theory, I knew it was going to be quite entertaining. That is a mere understatement as I was immediately drawn in by the first track. From that point on The Roots deliver the kind of sound that only they can create throughout the entire album. Their music sounds live as if you are in front of the stage. Black Thought is in rare form with his punchlines, similes and story telling. They sample a few oldies and without totally disrespecting the original song, they create something new and "accessible" for everyone. You rock out, two step, wild out, or cruise. Each track has its own feel. Be patient with the track's intro/fade croon. They let Thought get going on his syncopated socio-politics, painted in turbulent Philly street stories of struggle and ambition.

Part of what makes Game Theory succeed is the Roots' ability to display current and personal events in their music. Confusion, loss (inspired by tragedies such as hurricane Katrina and J Dilla's death), corporate woes, double standards and war permeate throughout the album.Overall I think the album is definitely worth buying, especially if you are a fan. If you aren't a fan, it's never too late to jump on the bandwagon. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album 3.5 stars out of 5 which does the album no justice. Then again what do you expect from Rolling Stone magazine. To help out you itune people or limewire people, I will analyze each track and let you know if its worth the download or 99 cents.

1. Dilltastic Vol Won(derful)
The introduction was produced by the late great J Dilla. It's very short and has a classical quality to it, hence the name Dilltastic Vol Won(derful). The slow and melodic tones provide a great setup for Black Thought in the next track. Think of it as a boxer's jab, it's used to set up the knockout punch.
My prescription: Too short to pay 99 cents for but definitely worth a listen.

2. False Media
The album kicks off on an innovative note, as Black tackles deception over giddy hi-hats and thematic instrumentation. The hook of this song makes it more even more enjoyable: America's lost in west side a Littleton/11 million children are on ritalin/thats why I don't rhyme for the sake of riddlin/false media? we don't need it do we?/pilgrim slave/indian mexican/it looks real f*cked up for your next of kin/thats why I don't rhyme for the sake of riddlin/false media? we don't need...Then Black cuts in, the beat changes to one that seems a little chaotic but fits the message that he's trying to send: Rather be a criminal pro, than follow the Matrix...Send the troops to get my paper/tell them to stay away from those skyscrapers...it ain't over/see that's how we get your fear to control ya/but ain't nobody under more control than a soldier/and how can you expect a kid to keep his composure/when all sorts of thoughts fall for exposure...Black is a rebel refusing toaccept the "realities"that the media tries to pass as being "truth." He has tapped into the conservative nature of news today, especially during this time of the war on terror. Our fears are being used to control us and this track, with its musical instrumental is an attempt to scramble that message.
My prescription: Although the track is short it is definitely worth your 99 cents.

3. Game Theory
This track is vintage Roots Live. Black Thought's lyrics and delivery blend perfectly with the rest of the ensemble. Whereas he stood at the forefront of the group, Thought returns to form like Vultron. With the melodic intro: This is a game/I'm your specimen accompanied by the drumming of ?uestlove Black Bursts on the track rapping about the slums of Philly as well as making it and continuing to strive and "get cabbage all day." The highlight of the track is the hook that Black spits himself, it rollls off his tongue is so smooth yet very gangster. The surprise on the track is the new blood that The Roots introduce, Malik. His presence on the mic is one packed with hunger and thirst. It is clear that he is on a mission to show that he isn't just a sidekick of Black Thought but his equivalent. Now I won't go that far and say that he is as nice as Thought, but the kid does spit a very hot 16.
My prescription: Purchase this track but be ready for some heavy delivery from Thought and the youngster Malik.

4. Don't Feel Right
This track was doomed from the beginning. Not because its a bad song but because it was placed in between two bangers. The transition from Game Theory to Don't Feel Right is flawless and we immeditely hear the work of ?uest. The hook is quite simple and the the voice that's sampled is hard to distinguish but it fits together well with the theme of the song. Something about the sample seems out of place but as the beat continues to go all the "noise" that seems out of play continues to blend in harmony. Sex, drugs, politics, religion...forms of hustlin' a provoking line by Black that most of us had never thought about and causes us to think, "It don't feel right."
My prescription: Track is worth purchasing if you listen to the album in order instead of skipping around.

5. In The Music
It may be my favorite track on the album. It is definitely a banger that you immediately crank up in your car, ipod, disc man or the speakers in your house. The title of the song explains exactly what the mood of the track is...it's about the music...the beat, the MC, the hook. It begins with drumming then moves to a bass and snare with echoes in the background. Then along comes the guitar (at least I think its a guitar) that gives the track this quality of tension. Malik B returns on and cosigns Black's narrative about street tragedies. Black spits: "Them young triggers lose lives by the minute there/They might start but the fight never finish there/They all f***ed up trying to get the ginger bread/A few stacks be the price for a n***a head/Cops and robbers, cowboys and indians/Splits and revolvers, Georgias and Benjamins/A celebration of your loss to your innocence/To your old self you lost any resemblance/They say the city makes a darker impression/The youth's just lost and they want direction/But they don't get the police, they get the protection/And walk around with heat like Charlton Heston, man." The hook: Its in the music/turn it up, let it knock/let it bang on the block/til the neighbors call the cops/the cops gon come/but they ain't gon do sh*t/they don't want no problem/what are y'all stupid? No we are not and we will definitely turn it up just to piss our neighbors off. This song is a preverbial "F" you to people that tell you to turn down your stereo.
My prescription: Purchase this track and be prepared for the emotions that will hit you once it starts. Side effects include reckless bobbing of the head (no homo), breaking stuff and all other acts of vandalism.

6. Take It There
Black begins this track without the company of a beat until some beat boxing beat (courteousy of Rahzel) kicks in. The beginning is laid back and Thought's flow is effortless as ?uest chimes in with the drums. The narrative by the voice we've come to love in previous Roots albums addresses us before the beat speeds up and the energy of the track picks up. Listeners of The Tipping Point will think of Boom and it's sequel Here I Come. I'm not quite sure what they mean by "Take it there" (kind of like what Young Joc means when he says "Its goin down"). Its open to any and all interpretation.
My prescription: The switch of the beat and the increase of the energy makes this track worth getting.

7. Baby
After In the Music, this track is my favorite. It's clearly single material, and it lightens up with facetious commentary takmy gnac on my $200-dollar suit and Stop being a backseat driver, man. Over a smooth track that's made for crusing and sippin gnac to, Black is telling a young lady (the "Baby") about her promiscuous boyfriend who is apparently cheating on her yet she continues to be with him. We all know this situation or know someone who knows someone. The only downside of this track is that it is 2 and a half minutes long.
My prescription: For you playas, pimps, and gnac sippers...cop this track.


8. Here I Come
On this track The Roots bring us their hip-rock music with an instrumental that is heavy with synthesizers and drums. Black rides the beat like a seasoned vet, providing a flow that is "strong" and "too militant." Dice Raw, along with the zealous Malik B provide the listeners with memorable verses. Raw claims to get money longer than the arms on Alonzo Mourning (which made me say "ok"). Malik's most memorable lines: Street apostle/pops should preach the gospel/still I'm hostile/sippin the deuce impossible/turn into monster/grouch, gimme the oscr/hit you like vodka...It is clear that this track is made for the featured MCs to step to the forefront and show their prowess on the mic.
My prescription: The beat is righteous. The MCs spit. Worth every penny.


9. Long Time
This track offfers sharp glimpses into Black Thought's grassroots autobiography. He rhymes about his life in Philly and "making something out of nothing." It's a tribute to South Philly and how he will never lose his ties to his humble upbringing. We all can understand these feelings as we all have strong ties to some place. Roots purists will heave a sigh of relief when they notice that Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella protege Peedi Peedi gives a run for his money on this track. A Philly native, Peedi Peedi (dropped the Crak after his prison stint) speaks on his beginnings: Live and direct, I don't need no mic check/remember mommy told me 'Peedi, you ain't write that...must have been the first time his mother discovered his writing. The beat is one that evokes feelings of nostalgia and fits perfectly with the vocals of Thought and Peedi.
My prescription: If you want to rediscover your roots and remember how things were when you were growing up purchase this track.


10. Livin' In A New World
In his track Black uses a megaphone to spit his stereotype based observations. This grabs your ears as everything he says is magnified x10. The hook is sang by John-John and he gives the listener a 1960s feel. This track is extremely short and caused me much dismay because the hook and the lyrical content had so much promise.
My prescription: Due to its short length it will cause you to thirst for more knowledge once its over. Purchase but be warned you will be disappointed when its over.


11. Clock With No Hands
Time waits for no man. This track is about the affects of time. Regretting things you've done or haven't done in the past. About the people you've forgotten or wronged. The young woman on the hook sings quite beautifully and compliments Black's rhymes about fake friends, turbulent times, and family woes. This song seems preachy but there are some things that need to be said and music is a great form of delivering a message.
My prescription: Heavy hitter. Delivers a good message without going Rev. Al Sharpton on you. Worth your 99 cents.

12. Atonement
Introspection continues on the J Davey-assisted track. This track is also very short as Thought only delivers one verse over a melodic beat accompanied by the same woman that sang the hook on the previous track.
My prescription: Short but sweet. Buy.

13. Can't Stop This
An 8 minute tribute to the late great producer J Dilla. Nothing more to say than that as J Dilla produced this track before his passing. The message is clear by the hook, time's are trying but you have to keep going. The loss he speaks of is not just of his dear friend or the victims of Katrina, he's also speaking of the loss of real hip hop. The remainder of the track is dedicated to artists, friends and family of J Dilla to show their love.
My prescription: If you're a fan of J Dilla (I know I am) then you should cop this track. The sample makes the song especially powerful.

Scott Storch's visible absence in production on Game Theory is obvious. Whereas The Tipping Point was fragmented, Game Theory is harmonious. Black Thought also steps his game up. Instead of verses filled with boastful rhymes, he plays on other strenghts such as: story-telling, creating visuals that everyone can "feel" no matter where they're from. In conclusion, I give game theory 4.5 out of 5 stars only because of the couple of tracks that are a couple minutes short of greatness.

4 comments:

Brother Smartness said...

In The Music has been on repeat all day on my IPOD. The album has been on heavy rotation at the crib. I wholeheartedly agree with the 4.5 out of five. They came correct on this album.

Brother Tallness said...

It's a decidedly leaner, less experimental than what I would expect from the roots, but like ya'll said, it works beautifully. I saw them play this summer in dc and they did "All in the Music". It was good, but the album version is a straight beast.

It's been said that the roots make really important(read: intellectual), yet forgettable music. A lot of the blame has been put on ?uest for overthinking the production and Black Thought for lacking a commanding mic presence. I'm not sure if i'd go that far but it seems like this album was made with those criticisms in mind.

Brother Smartness said...

Wow,

I've never heard that criticism. I can tell you as a brother whose favorite option on his ipod is "repeat one," that songs like Water and Act 2 The Love Of My Life have been played more than 300 times since I purchased them on itunes back in December. (I lent my cousin my Roots CDs and he has yet to give them back)

Stay Cool comes in a close third with 123 plays. If you consider that I really didn't start putting this songs on heavy rotation until February of this year, we are talking about some songs with serious longevity.

I still bang out that last rep of 8 on the bench with two fithy on the rack while singing

"you need to walk straight master your high,
son you missin out on what's passing you by..."

Anonymous said...

It's RAK, I've just lost my login for the moment...

FYI: Malik B is not "new blood" but the return of an original member of the Legendary Roots Crew (notice how big a fan I am yet?) who was on Organix, Illadelph Halflife and Do You Want More?!? (that classic roots sound albums) before leaving the group while on a European tour. Various reasons are mentioned, including addiction problem with various substances (some say cough syrup, some say alcohol) for Malik. Roots fans have been begging for his return since he left--BT is one of my favorite lyricists in terms of flow, but his quotables are much more noticeable when he has a partner on the mic. Otherwise, 3+ minutes of just BT becomes almost overwhelming.

This album is ridiculous, but it is interesting to see how little it is getting pushed. they're relying, for some reason, on word of mouth and whatnot. the video, which is cool, is a combo of don't feel right (that song grows on you), in the music, and here i come. How Long Time is not the single with Peedi (where's his album??? It's rare someone outshines BT on a verse, but he did, IMO) is beyond me. If this doesn't sell better than their earlier stuff, I hope that doesn't mean they become outcasts on the their new deal with Def Jam and back to being seen as "Jay-Z's back-up band".

Yeah, definitely a big fan of 'em. you should check out okayplayer.com for updates and info on shows and free shows by them and others.