Hip-hop super act The Roots have been around for over 20 years now, unfortunately I didn’t start listening to them until 2011. When I heard about their concept album “Undun,” the website that I read about it in gave it a perfect score. So of course I listened being the good music observer I am. I thought it was really good. I had forgotten about it until this week, when I went on a Roots binge. I had forgotten how exceptional most of the Roots album’s are, especially “Undun.”
The album starts with the death of Redford Stevens, a character created for the album. The song itself ends with screaming and an EKG flatlining. This is the end of his story, but the beginning of our observation of his story. “Sleep,” the next song is the last moments of Redford’s life, he states, “from a man to memory. Damn, I wonder if my fam will remember me,” This is a pretty awful thing to have to think about, whether even your family will remember you after you die. “Make My” carries on the same themes, it is also relatively close to Redford’s death.
“One Time” finds Redford reminiscing about his life and what he has done to get where he is. He talks about how he is always late for the bus. “Kool On” sees Redford celebrating his work in the streets as everything crumbles around him. “Riots erupting around and still we party on.”
“The Otherside” is tonally much darker than the last few songs. Redford remarks on the crimes he committed, how his boy was killed by the firearms that Redford uses for nefarious purposes. Redford is addicted to meds and is contemplating suicide. “Stomp” shows Redford on his way to commit the crime that will cost him his life. Repentant, but committed to do the deed.
Redford is drowning on “Lighthouse” and no one can save him. He is pondering the murder of what may be a friend. He can’t get above the depravity and evil that he has been exposed to since his birth. He “Remembers” life before the crimes he committed, how he was baptised in the fire of his friend’s death, which he caused. Redford’s whole life has been about tipping the scales in his favor, since they were against him since his birth.
The last four songs are movements, much like classical music, which depict most likely Redford’s birth. The last thing heard on the album is an unresolved piano chord, that like the rest of the production on this album paints a vivid picture.
“Sleep” sounds like the soundtrack of a cheap motel with flickering fluorescent light bulbs and a burnt out neon sign. “Make My” sounds like a warm, sunny, and colorful beach dreamscape. “One Time” with its heavy piano chords sounds like music that would follow someone on a trip to the subway in a movie. “Kool On” sounds like music for a party, “The Otherside” sounds like a chintsy music box. “Stomp” like its title suggests is upbeat fight music. Everything in “Lighthouse” is drowned in reverb, the piano sounds as if it is underwater. “I Remember” with its growly bass synth and other synths, sounds like a flashback in black and white. “Tip the Scale” sounds dark and heavy like a sky heavy with stormclouds. “Redford” sounds like a memoir, “Possibility” starts hopeful then begins to lose its brightness. “Will To Power” is frantic and crazy, “Finality” sounds peaceful until that unresolved chord takes over the entire song.
Finally, all the rappers on here - BlackThought, Big K.R.I.T., Greg Porn, Dice Raw, and Truck North - are all really on point and focused. The way everything came together is awesome, the production and themes blend really well with the vocals and lyrics. This album is really one of The Roots best, up there with Things Fall Apart.
by Addison Garry