Currently the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots started with only Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson back in 1987. After adding three other members and changing their name from The Square Roots they released their first album in 1993; seventeen years later, the band known for their funky, sophisticated brand of hip-hop has come out with their ninth album, “How I Got Over”. The band chose this name after Clara Wards famous gospel song that was later made popular by Mahalia Jackson.
Introduced by “A Peace of Light”, a wordless track containing the measured harmonizations of three female vocalists’ (Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle of The Dirty Projectors), the initial sound of this album is elegiac and understated. While this tone is carried throughout with tracks like “Walk Alone” and “Dear God 2.0”, there is an unmistakable, underlying sense of self-empowerment and gratitude incorporated into songs like “The Fire”, and “How I Got Over”.
The degree to which The Roots allow such a broad-based array of genre’s to influence the sound and construction of their music is one of the qualities that has sustained their fan bases’ interest in them over the past seventeen years, but what I found most enticing about this album was the clarity of self expression displayed in the bands lyrics. This characteristic is most prominent in Now or Never; a verbal realization that in order to reconcile with negativity in your past, one has to utilize self-awareness to regain control and structure their future in ways that will serve them productively. Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter even mentions himself in this song; “I’m ready for the next chapter and page to start acting my age/and part ways with Black Thought from back in the days.”
The Roots collaborated with an unconventional number of guest artists, with featured singers on every track other than two 42-second-long songs. One of the most notable artist’s incorporated in the making of this album is John Legend’s help in re-working his song “Again” to become the track “Doin’ It Again”. With Legend’s smooth, yet cogent vocals, alongside a higher register piano in the background, this track definitely displays a more soulful, gospel element than the other tracks. The famous R&B singer is also featured in The Fire, a fantastically well written homage to self-motivation and inner strength that manages to remain authentic and spirited.
Monsters of Folk – a supergroup made up of Bright Eye’s Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and M. Ward’s Mike Mogas – participated in the re-construction of an older Root’s song Dear God into what is included on this album, Dear God 2.o. This is perhaps the most overtly socially conscious track, commenting on global issues ranging from Chinese labor, over-dependency on technology, drug abuse, and endangered species.
After announcing that they planned on calling it quits when it came to producing albums in 2008, fans of The Roots were not expectant of any more releases until Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson made public their plans for a ninth album. Anxiously anticipating “How I Got Over “after the release date for the album got set back three times, the public largely appreciated the maturity and reflective attitude displayed in this set of tracks. And although some may disagree that the selling point of this album is the content of the lyrics, that only offers more praise to The Roots ability capture an audience with their uniquely modified style of Hip-Hop.
By Lacey Smalldon