VIDEO: The Roots featuring A-Trak & The Metropolis Ensemble’s “Never (Live on The Tonight Show):
In support of their brand new album, The Roots performed “Never” on last night’s episode of The Tonight Show, bringing on DJ A-Trak and the Metropolis Ensemble to help out. The vibe of the song may make you think of one part Portishead, one part “Dear Prudence” by The Beatles, but all the Legendary. Roots, that is.

You can read my review of …and then you shoot your cousin by clicking here.


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.


SOME STUFFS: Pharoahe Monch to release new album in April

 photo PharoaheMonch_old_zpsc06c9b03.jpg
Tax day in the U.S. is under two months away and while that can be good or bad, it seems to be turning into a great day for new music. Pharoahe Monch is returning to the forefront with P.T.S.D., which stands for “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”, and it will be packed with a lot of special guests, including Black Thought of The Roots, Talib Kweli,and Vernon Reid, plus production from the likes of Quelle Chris, Jesse West, Marco Polo, and Lee Stone. While the press release says Mohch has been “at the forefront of lyrical innovation for two-decades now”, that’s not quite true. We’re talking three decades: 90’s, 00’s, and now in the 10’s, and he’s not about to stop just yet. A song called “Bad MF” has already surfaced, so have a listen to it below.

A U.S. tour will coincide with the album’s release and when those are announced, I’ll post the dates here.

REVIEW: Elvis Costello & The Roots’ “Wise Up Ghost”

 photo ECRoots_cover_zps5d58c706.jpg With many people excited for the new collaboration album between Elvis Costello and The Roots, there were others who seemed to be a bit confused, as if mixing up musical influences in 2013 is something weird and bizarre. Let’s not forget that a few years ago, mash-ups were the it thing to do and hear, so if someone wanted to mix up Slayer with Conway Twitty, this was okay. Yet you do something that mixes things up in “real life” and “oh no, this is beyond anything that could happen, because it offends me”. Maybe that’s why the title is called Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note) because they’re telling you to wise up, and as for the ghost? Look in the mirror. Boo, you’re Casper.

In truth, this is a damn good album, with Costello bringing on the type of songwriting that has been championed by fans and critics for five, count them, five decades. This is a man who is making this type of quality of music before the age of 60, and while it shouldn’t be an issue, some will make it to be one. Costello doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. If he feels like doing classical music for awhile, he will. If he wants to go rockabilly, he will. Jam with Paul McCartney? Done. With The Roots, it’s simply putting on a new musical costume and doing it differently, with a band who have been consistent in how they play and produce their output. The Roots are a hip-hop band, we know this, but they have covered a wide range of styles not only on albums, but in a live setting and on a daily basis being the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s show. This is not a band who came from a random place and said “okay, let’s play with this white guy so we can get some rock credibility”, these are musicians who grew up with a diverse range of music and they’re doing it. A track like “Refuse To Be Played” has Costello and The Roots sounding like Lenny Kravitz and his band, or the work drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson did with Nikka Costa. The keyboard work here is incredible too, anyone who has loved the jazziness of what The Roots have done over the years will eat this up sincerely, at times coming off like Thrust-era Herbie Hancock.

One might ask “do The Roots add a hip-hop vibe to Costello’s work?” Quick answer: no. Costello may do a quick jazzy scat here and there, but don’t expect for him and Black Thought (who isn’t on the album) to spit rhymes back and forth, this is not that type of album. Also, don’t expect Costello to try to be Macklemore, 2 Chainz, or Danny Brown just because he’s jamming with The Roots, this is not that type of album. Wise Up Ghost is an album by a pop/rock artist who has performed with many musicians behind him throughout his career, so consider this like The Roots sitting in at the nightclub, and oh by the way, Costello decided to surprise everyone by joining them. That’s not to say that there aren’t hip-hop influences on here? The drums in “Stick Out Your Tongue” seems like it was influenced by the Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm”, while “Wake Me Up” may be a nice tribute to Dilla and the drum chops created for Q-Tip’s “Let’s Ride”. “Sugar Won’t Work” sounds very much rooted in the sound of New Orleans and The Meters, with guitarist Captain Kirk getting his love of Leo Nocentelli spread all over the place. I love the 3/4 time signature of “(She Might Be A (Grenade)”, where what sounds like a bass clarinet (could be a baritone saxophone) sounds very much like what Herbie Hancock did on Mwandishi and “Ostinato (Suite for Angela)”, while the string arrangement sounds as if it was some unreleased Clare Fischer score from Prince’s Under The Cherry Moon or Lovesexy sessions. Meanwhile, the groove in “Viceroy’s Row” has a nice “People Make The World Go Round” feel to it. In other words, it sounds like ?uestlove was having fun with throwing his musical knowledge out and said “I have some ideas”. To me, that sounds like a DJ at work, making sure there’s balance, consistency, and flow from start to finish so that things sound flawless without anyone falling over, as one of the songs on the album states, a “Tripwire”. The music is brilliant in how it is exexuted, whether you listen to it on the surface or try to piece the puzzle that may or may not be going on.

Costello handles guitar, bass, and keyboards on some of these tracks, along with a melodica in the opening song “Walk Us Uptown”, so if we are to get technical, he really didn’t *need* to bring The Roots in for anything. He could’ve pulled a McCartney and said “hey me, I’m going to make a solo album and I’ll do a human beatbox for drum tracks.”. But he didn’t, he brought in The Roots and what you hear is simply a band who continues to show strength as time goes on, in everything that they do. The solidness of Wise Up Ghost, and how it can sound modern, bright and new at times while also capturing certain vibes of the past, comes not only from the production of Costello and ?uestlove, but also Steven Mandel, who has been an important part of the production equation of The Roots, and he makes sure they sound as good as they can be. Mix that up with someone like ?uestlove who may also have his set of standards, but then add Costello to the mix? I am certain there were a few clashes here and there but they managed to compromise and “wise up” amongst one another, allowing each other to not only create and work, but get to a finished product that would make everyone happy.

I had read a reference elsewhere where someone made the claim there are Costello fans who were complaining how some of Costello’s lyrics were pulled from older songs, so that this new Costello/Roots album featured nothing but hints of rehashes. I’m sorry, but why is it that when Pink Floyd used continuity in their music by reviving bass lines, keyboard riffs, vocal harmonies, and sound effects throughout their entire discography, that’s considered one of the greatest things any rock band could ever do, while Costello possibly doing the same thing is a detriment, or something that may hurt the integrity of his music? Really? Are people saying this because no one ever thought Costello would work with a band like The Roots, or are people blown away that this album is so good that they have to throw in some kind of negative comment just to say there are drawbacks to this listening experience? C’mon folks, consider this a chance to hear Costello get down and funky. I would rather be an artist that is open to collaboration and experimentation than someone who was forced to do what management told me. Costello’s lyrics are as consistent as they have been since “Oliver’s Army”, “Peace, Love & Understanding”, “Accidents Will Happen”, “Every Day I Write The Book”, and “Taking My Life In Your Hands”, and features the same kind of sentimentality, humor, sarcasm, inquisitiveness, adventure, romance, and hope that has always been the constant string throughout his work. The Roots continue to be at the top of their game, and one might say it’s a game with no players in the hip-hop field, but I’m talking all bands across the board, all genres. What would happen if Costello worked with the Dap-Kings, would people then say “oh yes, now this is an official album, this is the album of the year” but with The Roots you’re going to slam them? Bullshit. Complete bullshit. It makes me question if you’re really listening to the music or merely waiting for another comment from someone who you want to gripe with, for the sake of griping. Again: Wise Up Ghost.

VIDEO: Stüssy presents a “YO! MTV Raps” documentary

When YO! MTV Raps aired on the music cable network in August of 1988, it seemed inevitable but no one quite knew the impact it would make. MTV had already placed a very small handful of rap videos by Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys into rotation, but that was it. If you had access to Black Entertainment Television, you would be able to see some of the latest videos on Video Soul and Video Vibrations, with the latter featuring more songs due to the tastes and preferences of the host (which existed only in voice). Then YO! came on, and at a time when the music was gaining a great amount of popularity at record stores and thus record labels, there was a greater push for artists to create a video because now, they were having MTV time alongside Guns N’ Roses, Whitesnake, and Ratt.

Stüssy have put together a 2-part documentary called We Were All Watching, directed by Adam Jay Weissman. The doc highlights the importance of the hip-hop show by featuring segments from it over the years and current interviews with everyone from ?uestlove to Ed Lover, Dante Ross to Bill Adler, The Alchemist to MC Lyte, DJ Premier to Rakim, Shock G. to Sway and others. You may watch both parts of the documentary above.

VIDEO: Unveiling the new Elvis Costello & The Roots album (slowly)

 photo ElvisRootsWUU_cover_zpsadceb7f9.jpg
?uestlove recently posted a “lyric video” from the project he and The Roots did with Elvis Costello called Wake Up Ghost (Blue Note). The track is called “Walk Us Uptown” and as always, Costello is exploring and has found a good spot to hang out in. While not a proper video, you can get a slight feel of what’s to come when the album is released later this year. If you like what you hear, you can buy the MP3 for it tomorrow (Tuesday, July 23rd) through the Amazon link below.

VIDEO: DJ Tony Touch featuring Black Thought, M1, Fame, A.G, & Sean Price’s “Power Cypher”

Shot last week during DJ Tony Touch’s Toca Tuesdays on Shade45, this is the kind of freestyle session that used to be the subject of countless mix tapes traded locally, regionally, on the Usenet, and online bulletin boards. In 2013, we now get to see the potential magic in HD.

VIDEO: Bilal & The Roots’ “Black Cow (bonus performance from “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon”)”
The folks at NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon are doing things right, especially on the music side. Singer Bilan sat in with The Roots on last night’s show, and as has been the tradition, there are bonus performance that are not shown on air. This is one of them, with Bilal and the legendary crew performing Steely Dan’s “Black Cow”.

VIDEO: Nardwuar vs. ?uestlove (2013)

As you should know by know, Nardwuar The Human Serviette isn’t afraid to ask the right questions at the right times, because the man is a mad researcher. When ?uestlove paid a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, most likely to see Prince do a performance or two or something, he was asked by Nardwuar for an interview. They had spoken before, and it was a chance to get reacquainted. Little did ?uest know what Nardwuar had in store. It was enough to turn this into a 46 minute video. Have a look.

FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD: Robert Glasper featuring Solange Knowles & The Roots’ “Twice (?uestlove’s Twice Baked Remix)”

Out of the blue, things like this can happen. Robert Glasper has been friends with ?uestlove for awhile. Glasper releases an album that has him stepping not so much out of jazz for a brief moment, but moving out of the jazz circle towards the left, with a foot always planted in that circle. The end result was an album he released this past March called Black Radio (for my review of that, click here. Glasper has had a great year this year with praise for this album, which has lead to a positive response from show dates, which has lead to more collaborations. In this case, things have lead to a brand new remix from ?uestlove, or if you want to be a purist about it, simply a brand new track where Glasper joins The Roots and brings Solange Knowles for the ride. If anything, this might make people say “now why isn’t THIS on black radio in 2012?” It might be, but then again it might not. Public Enemy and the Geto Boys brought up the issues and status of black radio, which leads to the question of what makes black music “black music” but that might lead to deeper thought, discussions, and debates, which may make you forget what started the discussion in the first place.

To remind you, you were lead here because you wanted to check what Robert Glasper did when ?uest brought in his band and Solange to create a damn good song. Music with thought: what a concept.

The track is from the forthcoming EP Black Radio Recovered: The Remix Ep, due out this Tuesday.