REVIEW: The Roots’ “…and then you shoot your cousin”

 photo TheRootsATYSYC_cover_zpsd8cd9d7c.jpg Is this part of the Def Jam Payment Plan, or is this what money could provide if people paid attention to listen? …and then you shoot your cousin (Def Jam) is the latest album from The Roots and if people have been wondering why the group have been acting all pissy since Phrenology, then you’re not going to like the darkness heard in the lyrics throughout this thirty-three minute album. You now might be thinking “33 minutes? We’re in a digital world, what is this 33 minute crap?” In a time when album sales are diminishing, 33 minutes can be considered a healthy listen in 2014 and that is what should be done to this, a concept album that is direct and indirect as some of their projects in recent years.

…and then you shoot your cousin is a concept album where the characters interact with each other throughout the album, along with assisting in describing the atmosphere that lead to the surroundings and the circumstances behind talking about this. When you hear Dice Raw saying “what’s for breakfast? Same as yesterday/oh, that’s right, cheeseburger and a 40 ounce/yo, what’s for dinner? nothing n***a/last night, I had a dream about a Porterhouse”, he could be having a flashback to youth but he could also be touching on hip-hop at a younger age, perhaps what KRS-One referred to when he said “now there’s steak with the beans and rice”, wondering when the good meat is going to arrive, when the good cuts are going to be put on the dinner table and everything you have to do in order to make that happen, if it can happen. The spiritual side of ones self is explored in “Understand”, doing things in order to survive but always doubting if things are good or not, and if being bad will become a part of a domino collapse. “The Dark (Trinity)” touches on personal identity while judging ones self with guns and diamond teeth, while living one way is said to be the only way you can be when you want to be much more, even though the powers that be tell you that you can’t be. It’s fulfilling a need for something else, but for whom and why. The line “I remember all I wanted was a gold chain and a Kangol” goes back to the essence of not only rap music, but youth, when ambitions were innocent and not about surviving a game that other people said you were in, and not being in it means you are, in the words of KRS-One, outta here. Raheem DeVaughn handles two vocal appearances on this, the album’s penultimate closing track being his own song while the one before, “The Unraveling”, has Black Thought saying the lyrics as if it’s a confessional, uncertain of what he has created, what he has become, and whether or not what he has learned will pay off for him.

You can listen to …and then you shoot your cousin in a number of ways. As a new Roots album, it sounds like the band are enjoying being enraptured by exploring emotions that are often not part of hip-hop’s diaspora. One can argue what hip-hop’s diaspora may be anymore, can someone still be able to touch on what made the music proud in the first place or is it nothing but what rules everything around you, have we made it further than the dream Biggie Smalls once talked about in “Juicy”? The album has a number of references to hip-hop of the past but also of itself, for “The Dark (Trinity” sounds like “Silent Treatment” played at a slower tempo while “Black Rock” sounds like that choice album cut on a CD or mix tape that made you want to rewind its grit over and over just to feel it and share it with everyone, what made the music felt like a community even if it only meant people at school, at camp, at college, or your Usenet newsgroup. There are moments where the album doesn’t sound like a full group album at all, which shows how well Black Thought had always represented himself throughout their entire discography. Black Thought plays a very important part of the album’s storyline, but he may be part of the chain that links everything together as everyone else helps to define it in a simpler manner. Some tracks just sound like ?uestlove on turntables and Black Thought with a mic, other parts you can hear some intense freaky moments that may sound like an excerpt from Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, and if you’re not into the perceived out-of-place movements, you might thing the group have gone off their heads again.

The Roots keep on testing their fans who claim that hip-hop is everything, and yet when a group is more than willing to incorporate anything and everything, it’s not hip-hop enough. Those fans were making themselves known once the album started to stream last week. It seems what they do cannot be understood by some because what they’re doing is unfamiliar, and yet in other genres, what they’re doing would make critics pull up words making it the best project of the year, if not a career. What defines The Roots as such and why push those limits when no one is willing to play and challenge those limits? It is what …and then you shoot your cousin covers, a way to question who did the shooting, if a death happened and if not, what can be saved to bring the identity back to life. If The Roots are saying bringing something to life means bringing it back to reality, who will be willing to leave it in our hands until we’re ready, and will we know when it is ready or let things rot? As grim as the album sounds, there’s some humor and sarcasm throughout even though it may not be easy to detect just yet. It could be a way for them to laugh at itself but by the album’s conclusion also stating that what we do is not, and has never been, a laughing matter.

Consider this the piano melody in Chic’s “Good Times”, hearing the sadness but knowing that one day, the horror will end. What the horror is and why it holds us down is what makes this an important lesson. The cut-and-paste vibe of the cover artwork may be a way to say that hip-hop in itself comes from various sources, or “pieces in one big chess game”, and while we may all be separated, it is the unity that keeps us alive. That is what must be done before things truly do fall apart. How you define and apply it is up to you, and that’s what makes this a joy to listen to.

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