Pitchfork Reviews The Roots’ HOW I GOT OVER Album.

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Above everything else that defines them, the Roots are capital-P
Professionals. That’s why they’re perfect for their “Late Night” job.
They don’t fit there because, as critics would say, they’re easily
digestible; they fit because they’re versatile and consistently operate
at a high level. They’re encyclopedic music scholars who’re proud of
their chops but don’t flash them at the expense of an accessible hook.
They never compromise, even though they’re refined enough to help set
the standards for grown-man class in hip-hop. And it’s possible to
listen to their last few albums without being reminded they’re big-idea
concept records, even though their themes leave an impression fairly
quickly.

So after all the delays and discarded material (whatever
happened to that “Peaches En Regalia” cover?), How I Got Over has
emerged as a particularly efficient album. It’s the Roots’ shortest (a
lean 42 and a half minutes), one of their most lyrically
straightforward, and a work of strong stylistic cohesion. A decade’s
worth of personnel changes notwithstanding, it’s clear that this is the
same braintrust that made “The Next Movement” sound so vibrant 11 years
ago; the two most prominent instrumental components remain ?uestlove’s
in-the-pocket drumming and the Ahmad Jamal/Donny Hathaway resonance of
Kamal Gray’s keyboards. And on the mic, Black Thought maintains his
usual level-headed authority, continuing to come across at his best like
a down-to-earth version of Rakim.

But what makes How I Got Over
work is its sense of purpose. After the jaw-clenching stress rap of
their last two excellent Def Jam releases, Game Theory and Rising Down,
this record operates as a slow-build mission statement on how to
overcome. Everything hinges on the title track, a stirring anthem built
from a congas-and-organ backbone that sounds like a funkier, livelier
inversion of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”. As a showcase for Dice Raw and
Black Thought’s unexpectedly tender singing voices– as well as the
latter MC’s ability to elevate simple sentiments with his delivery– it
feels like the group’s usual rigorous standards being met. But it isn’t
exactly an accurate indication of how the album itself turns out
sounding.

Instead, it’s a pivot point, where everything before
its halfway-mark appearance is the tunnel and everything afterwards is
the light. How I Got Over is sequenced with a distinct idea of mood
progression, changing from defeated, malaise-stricken piano-ballad
dirges to defiant statements of survival and resilience. Black Thought’s
tough lamentations on early tracks “Walk Alone” and “Radio Daze” pick
up where the more introspective moments of Rising Down left off. And
even if he pushes a few metaphors past the breaking point or coasts on
stating the obvious for a line or two, he doesn’t suffer from a lack of
relatability.

Once “How I Got Over” breaks through the first
half’s well-crafted melancholy and transitions into its more resolute
second half, the sound shifts from glowing downtempo neo-soul to
something more energized. “Right On” pits Joanna Newsom’s lilting voice
and harp against one of the most commanding drum breaks on the album;
John Legend is artfully deployed as both a ghostly sample (the
cathedral-sized “Doin’ It Again”) and an intense live vocalist (“The
Fire”); “Web 20/20″ upends the minimalist snare-driven charge of its
Tipping Point namesake and mutates it into a jury-rigged,
elastic-ricochet revamp of snap music. Black Thought ups his mood over
the course of things as well, and by the time they reach the record’s
unlikely final hook– “Hustla”‘s Auto-Tuned crying-baby– he’s turning
struggles into strengths for the sake of his next generation.

A
lot has been made of the indie rock collaborations on this album,
particularly the appearances by Newsom, the Monsters of Folk on “Dear
God 2.0″, and the wordless a cappella chorus from Amber Coffman, Angel
Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle of the Dirty Projectors on the intro track
“A Peace of Light”. But their crossover efforts land firmly on the
Roots’ side of the equation, integrating into their Soulquarian
aesthetic instead of nudging them the other way. Meanwhile, the guest
MCs do just as much to round out How I Got Over’s personality. The
recurring satellite members that bolstered the ranks on Rising Down
reprise their roles here (an on-fire Dice Raw, the low-key sharpness of
Truck North and P.O.R.N., the obligatory show-stealing Peedi Peedi
appearance). “Right On” and “Hustla” make for a couple of good showcases
for promising Philly-via-ATL up-and-comer STS, who’s molded his
semi-drawl into an agile flow. And there’s a couple of fine verses from
Little Brother’s Phonte and some absolute revelations from L.A. phenom
Blu, both of whom sound vital even when they spend most of their time
describing their anxiety.

How I Got Over has its title for a
reason. It alludes to the gospel standard popularized by Clara Ward, and
has a similarly spiritual-minded cast to it as its namesake’s tribute
to the power of belief in helping people reach the promised land. Maybe
it’s not as explicitly religious, but it regularly alludes to some form
of higher power, whether it’s God or a more secular sense of things that
are simply out of civilization’s control. And that’s the compelling
thing about the Roots on this album: They’re not afraid to show humility
and frustration when confronted with struggle, operating on the same
level of humanity as the people who listen to it. For all the Roots’
tight professionalism and clockwork consistency, for all their
late-night TV exposure and their status as alt-rap icons, they’re not
superhuman. But the fact that they know this, that they can make a whole
album about coming to terms with it– that makes them powerful.

— Nate Patrin, June 25, 2010 Link: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14386-how-i-got-over/

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