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.


FREE MP3 DL: XFM: Scroobius Pip’s Beatdown – The Curious Tale of the Hip Hop Cover Version

There used to be a time when covering a hip-hop song was laughable. But artists like Tricky and the Barenaked Ladies covered songs like “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” and “Fight The Power” respectively, and it became a part of the norm, especially now that everyone has access to a camera and YouTube. XFM have put together a brief mix of hip-hop cover versions, created by Scroobius Pip’s Beatdown for XFM, and you may listen to or download both of them right now. Here are the track listings:

Part 1
Ricky V Valentine Ghetto Classics (Grandmaster Flash, NWA, Outkast & Jay Z)
Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra One Thing (Amerie)
Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (Tribe Called Quest)
The Klaxons No Diggity (Blackstreet)
Taggy Matcher Get Your Freak On (Missy Elliot)
B.A Baracus Band – Mama Said Knock You Out (LL Cool J)
Sarah Winters Runaway (Kayne West)

Part 2
Stereo Total Push It (Salt n’ Pepper)
Mato I Got 5 On It (Luniz)
Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra Get UR Freak On (Missy Elliot)
Quantic Y Su Conjunto Los Miticos Del Ritmo – Nothin But A ‘G’ Thing (Snoop Dogg)
B.A Baracuss Band Jump (Kriss Kross)
Mark Ronson All I Need (feat. Wale & Tawiah) (Mary J Blige/Method Man)
El Michels Affair Shimmy Shimmy Ya (ODB)
Booker T. Jones feat Questlove Everything Is Everything (Lauren Hill)
Alyson Greenfield Gangsta’s Paradise (Coolio)

These are the track listing as shown on the Soundcloud page, I didn’t want to correct the credit for Salt-N-Pepa or the spelling of Lauryn Hill, but feel free to do it yourself. Also, I’m not sure how BLACKstreet and Amerie became hip-hop, who knows. Nonetheless, take a listen.

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.

SOME STUFFS: 9th Annual Afropunk Fest returns in August

 photo AfroPunk2013_poster_zpsae9db50c.jpg
Look at this, I think the poster/flyer speaks for itself to where I almost don’t have to explain what’s going on. Just look at it and head out there if you can, right? However, I should let you know what’s going on.

First off, the obligatory introduction as to what Afropunk is:
AFROPUNK is an influential community of young, gifted people of all backgrounds who speak through music, art, film, comedy, fashion and more. Originating with the 2003 documentary that highlighted a Black presence in the American punk scene, it is a platform for the alternative and experimental. Remaining at the core of its mission are the punk principles of DIY aesthetics, radical thought and social non-conformity. AFROPUNK is a voice for the unwritten, unwelcome and unheard-of.

The 9th annual Afropunk Fest is bringing together a lot of talent in one place. Headlining will be Chuck D. & DJ Lord of Public Enemy, who will be performing Fear Of A Black Planet in full. Also scheduled to appear include ?uestlove (of The Roots), Saul Williams, The Coup, K-OS, Danny Brown, Jean Grae, Theophilus London, Mykki Blanco, LE1F, and so many more. In fact, more artists are being pulled in for the Afropunk Fest as you read this. Everyone will be gathering at Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn on August 24-25th, so if you want to consider this one of your end-of-summer events, this would be a great way to celebrate the season. For updates and more information on the festival, head to

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.

REVIEW: Foreign Exchange presents “+FE Music: The Reworks”

Foreign Exchange photo FEReworks_cover_zps1e38af7a.jpg The new Foreign Exchange album is not a “Foreign Exchange” proper album, although it could very well be an extension of what Foreign Exchange have established over the years. While they’re calling it a remix album, +FE Music: The Reworks features not only FE songs but also tracks that various members of the +FE family have done, plus a few cameos from Phonte, a number of remixes from Nicolay, and more. I feel more artists should make a “resume album” this good and this deep.

On one hand, it’s a great way to hear new mixes of familiar material, so if you’re a fan of Foreign Exchange or Phonte’s solo album, you can hear new interpretations of what you like. If Phonte had a special guest spot in something, you may hear it here. While FE has been about the soul with touches of pop, he has a few rap verses on this, for those who still demand what he had offered with Little Brother. All of this makes the album quite good, but then it gets better.

If some feel that soul music in the United States went down the tubes in the last 15 years, one can argue that it has been European artists who have helped to keep it strong, if not alive, at a time when it could have laid itself to rest. I look at Nicolay’s remix of Deborah Bond’s “Say It” and it reminds me of something I would expect to hear on a 4Hero or Jazzanova album. As for 4Hero, he handles the remix to Zo!’s “Flight Of The Blackbyrd” and with Phonte’s sweet vocals helping out in the background, it feels like a project that was… I was going to say “made elsewhere” but perhaps a better phrase would be that it sounds like worldwide music, as if I might catch it in a hot club in Japan as I would somewhere in Germany or France. Nicolay’s remix of Vikter Duplaix’s “Electric Love” sounds like it has a few purple shades to it, with slight musical hints to Prince’s “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” or Vanity 6’s “Drive Me Wild”. Hear Duplaix’s vocals made me think “the only thing that would make this song better would be background vocals from Clara Hill.” Phonte’s tracks are all standouts, and hearing these new music will make you ponder on which is the better (or preferred) mix. He has one of the best voices out there, and it doesn’t matter if he keeps things mild mannered or breaks out, I like hearing what he does.

+FE Music: The Reworks is soul, it’s a club album, it’s electronic soul, it’s disco, it has the slow jams, and there’s more than enough tracks on here deserving of maximum exposure and airplay. This is a double album with close to two hours of music, and it has some grit to it, in that there’s substance to what I’m listening to. A part of it reminds me of the music I grew up listening to, but it also sounds like the music I found a liking to while exploring magazines that looked elsewhere for inspiration. What I could not find domestically, I had to hunt for and this sounds like a great accumulation of the many things one would love to hear in an album. It may very well be an assortment of songs but it’s put together as if it was a concert performance, a set list for a concert you would feel foolish in missing. Whatever Phonte and Nicolay plan on doing with the Exchange they have organized so far, it has been a very healthy union and one that I hope will continue for many years to come.

COVERED: Bob Dylan vs. ?uestlove

Bob Dylan/?uestlove
When artist Milton Glaser was asked to put together a drawing of Bob Dylan for a then-forthcoming biography, he came up with a concept that involved him having psychedelic hair, as it was 1966. The publisher wasn’t able to present the full color drawing in “full color”, so it was scaled down to blue and tan lines. Upon presenting it to Dylan, he rejected it immediately. The drawing would eventually be used as a poster found in copies of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits on Columbia. If you went to someone’s home or apartment and they had the poster, then you’d know they had a copy of the album. The trippiness of the drawing started to take on a life of its own and became iconic in its own right, with people discovering the word “ELVIS” spelled out in Dylan’s hair.

Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson is the drummer for the Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots, and he is about to release his first book in 2013, done with author Ben Greenman, called Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove (Grand Central Publishing). If you have ever read his liner notes, his online posts, or Tweets, you’ll know that he is a walking and breathing version of album/CD liner notes. We’re not talking mere production credits and acknowledgments, but full on liner notes. After all of that accumulation, he has put all of that down (or as much as he can up to a point) so the public can consume it at will. The cover of the book is homage to Glaser’s Dylan drawing, but instead of having psychedelic hair with “ELVIS” spelled within, it’s a number of question marks and his trademark Afro-pick. As I’m looking at ?uest’s book, I notice a few curls in his mustache and beard. Is there secret code found within? Uncertain at this time, but I’m sure the code that everyone will want to discover will be located within its pages.

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.

BOOK’S FOODIE: ?uestlove appears on “The Chew” to cook with Mario Batali and share his food interests
If you have followed The Roots‘ drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson through the social media for the last two years, he has shown a growing love for food that has become more than just a stop or two at restaurants or a casual sample of local and regional cuisine during festival stops in Europe. ?uest has established ?uest Loves Food, which has lead to him creating chicken drumsticks and presenting it in a number of places. This included a battle between ?uest and chef David Chang on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and a one-time (for now) chicken drum stick food truck in New York City that got fans of the pollo going crazy. In the words of Wyclef Jean, most likely this is not just a one-time thing, but “two-times”. How so?

?uest Loves Food is a catering service that features, according to his interview with the Huffington Post, “locally sourced buttermilk fried chicken”, and as a catering start-up, it’s going to add the culinary arts to the man’s already deep resume. Any of you who watch the Food Network, Cooking Channel, or shows by Anthony Bourdain, Samantha Brown, Guy Fieri, or anyone of the “food celebrities” know that catering can be a very profitable business, because there’s one guarantee in a business like this: everyone likes to eat. The chicken drumsticks may have been demos for the ?uest Loves Food brand, and as he revealed in his appearance in ABC’s food talk show The Chew (i.e. the foodie version of The View, get it?), more will be revealed on or around January 2013 when it makes its big public debut. Is it just catering? An extension of the food truck? A restaurant? Do you want… yeah, you knew I was going to say that but things are being kept under the lid right now, with absolutely no cryptic messages from ?uest as he normally does with his music.

On top of letting people know about ?uest Love Food, ?uest had posted a photo of a drum set they had made specifically for his appearance on The Chew, consisting of pots and pants. As ?uest walked towards the kit, he said that this was how The Roots actually started, with pots and pants. I’m sure the crowd were thinking “yeah right, this is going to sound like a complete mess” but… it was not. As you will see, it lead to co-host Carla Hall getting down to the metallic funk, soul, and salsa. Does that mean ?uesto nacho chips or salsa are on the way? Who knows but if you missed his appearance and drum break, here they are.

SOME STUFFS: ?uestlove makes cryptic message on title of forthcoming Roots album

It has begun. The Roots‘ drummer ?uestlove had made a tweet a week or two ago showing his set-up of snare drums, and stated that it would be used in the recording studio. In other words, a new Roots album is underway, but he did not give out any more information than that. Different drums, different sounds: the spark of creativity underway.

The first day of July, ?uest answered a tweet by stating “undun is like a xmas lp. specific setting. Our next lp “&TYSYC” (guess) will be regular.”

?uest is one of the kings of the cryptic message, but hints are occasionally aplenty. This time, it’s just initials. One person looked at the initials and said& Then You Sold Young Chickens?, which may or may not be a thinly guised reference to ?uest’s chicken drumstick adventures.

That’s all we know though: &TYSYC. Is it a lyrical reference? The ampersand may suggest this title is meant to compliment something. For example, if undun is meant to be “we wish you a Merry Christmas”, then would &TYSYC be the equivalent to the other half of that line, “and a Happy New Year”? ?uest stated that this new album would be “regular”, which means it’s not a concept album or (as I stated in my review) one with a running theme. This might mean it’s a bit of fun, a bit of playtime. The Roots album everyone can appreciate without being too heady, but then again, The Roots have always gone out of their way to add something extra to their music. The musical equivalent of the phrase “by the way” that Professor X of X-Clan would say in many of his songs.

Which leads me to be foolish and come up with a few guesses for this &TYSYC:

& Thank Yourself, You Cowards
& The Yack Suck Yellow Clang
& To Your Sonic Youth Caucasians

I can assume without asking ?uest that all three guesses are wrong. However, having a title pre-determined means new Roots music is on the way. With luck, maybe a few tracks from these recording sessions will be considered for Record Store Day 2013, either as The Roots or maybe a pseudonym or two. Maybe they could release their version of The TurtlesThe Battle Of The Bands, which would satisfy some fans and how they’d like to hear them try out different styles of music out of their “expected norm”. I know: “Book, stop playing musical director, we got this.” Fair enough, I’m just playing guesswork as I always am. New Roots album before the end of 2012? Crossing fingers.

UPDATE (July 4, 2012): ?uest has added some numerals to the equation, to suggest that each word has x-amount of letters:
& T___(3) Y__(2) S____(4) Y___(3) C_____(5)