This ninth album from the Roots is hands-down their best since 2002’s Phrenology for the simple fact that it sounds like a Roots album. The technology that’s infiltrated their signature live-band sound since 2004’s Tipping Point is still very much present (check out the sample of a crying baby distorted to an abstract ear worm in closer “Hustla”), but Black Thought, ?uestlove and co. have finally figured out how to incorporate it without sounding like all the ringtone-composers out there, and — in keeping with the precedent set by their past few albums — they’ve done it while featuring more guest stars than a week’s worth of Jimmy Fallon. Under-sung MCs such as PORN, Dice Raw, and former Little Brother Phonte get space to shine, and so do unlikely candidates Joanna Newsom (“Right On”), Monsters of Folk (“Dear God”), and all the vocalists from the Dirty Projectors who aren’t Dave Longstreth (“A Peace of Light”), proving indie rock’s ganking of hip-hop elements can be a two-way street. Recontextualized, Jim James’s smooth falsetto sounds like the work of a Marvin Gaye protégé and Newsom might be a Billie Holiday-style other-worldly jazz chanteuse, but more important than the payoffs of ballsy stunt-casting, Black Thought’s lyrics reveal a renewed inspiration. Though the album is a collective effort for sure, Black Thought, no longer upstaged by the young MCs he’s helping promote, dominates most every track, and the guest stars strive to match him. The title track, which offers some of the most prescient and catchy preaching I’ve heard since Common’s Be, sets the standard: “Out on the streets where I grew up, first thing they teach you is not to give a fuck” goes the chorus. “That type of thinking will get you nowhere/ Someone’s got to care.” The Roots care, and for the first time in years they’re consistently proving it.
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