It comes a point in time where every artist falls victim to complacency. Strangely enough, this fate has yet to hit The Legendary Roots Crew. The Philadelphia natives have survived the times, and managed to reinvent their vintage sound with every effort. Now 13 albums deep into their catalogue, it’s safe to say that their legacy is firmly intact. In between moonlighting as the house band for the Jimmy Fallon late night show, as well as maintaining a presence on the tour circuit, the hip hop band presents the musical masterpiece, Undun.
Undun is a concept album that tells the story of a street hustler named Eric Redford who meets his untimely demise. While the actual concept may seem redundant especially in Hip Hop, it’s the execution of the album that makes it unique. The story is told backward, so every track is used to shed light on how the Redford character came to meet his fate.
The album opens up with an instrumental that mixes the sound of a flat line into the production. We’re immediately taken from there to “Sleep”, where Redford is already among the deceased. The stand out track “Make My” featuring Big KRIT offers introspective rhymes, which help the listener identify the motivations of the character, so as better to relate to his tragedy.
While songs such as “One Time”, “Lighthouse”, and “I Remember” could all stand alone as solid tracks, the listener will appreciate them much more in the context of the album. Each one offers a piece of Redford’s story that involves revenge, lost friendship, and an ode to a past life of innocence. With The Root’s front man Black Thought handling the majority of vocals through out the album, he remains as sharp as he’s ever been with his lyrical depth on full display as he assumes the role of Redford. The only flaw with that is the concept of the album forces him to stay within the box that the concept is wrapped around, but he does a nice job of keeping it all consistent. Joined by longtime Root’s collaborator Dice Raw who raps and provides several notable choruses, each addition to the album compliments the overall theme.
Of course with any Roots album, the true beauty lies within the instrumentation. Though the band has seen it’s share of member changes over the years, the Philadelphia natives have always shown great chemistry with every effort. In fact the last couple tracks on this album are all instrumentals, and the band does a good job of manipulating sound to finish off their story of Redford. The way their able to capture a somber mood that remains consistent with the album with no vocals needed is something to applaud, and demonstrates the full artistic capabilities of the act.
It’s hard to believe that The Roots have been doing music this well for so long. Yet this album shows that the group will continue to test their own boundaries, as they’re really only in competition with themselves at this point. Undun is not just another worthy addition to their catalogue, but easily one of the best albums of 2011.