Thursday, October 05, 2006

Notes: The Roots - Game Theory

Music is a very compelling subject. For most, music is the touchstone that conjures memories of where one's been and where one hopes to go. Even the snootiest of music lovers will hear Britney Spears in 25 years and remember where they were and what they were doing when "Toxic" was burning it's way up and down the charts.

The implanting for music I assume happens somewhere around puberty I figure, although considering the kids at my job, the age might be getting younger. Anyhow, music tends to parallel one's life. During youth, the more energetic music tends to dominate but as you mature, the introspective tunes tend to hold more weight. Eventually, and sadly, it seems that music falls out of favor once you're older. It's like an afterthought. I think that part of the reason that the Stones, Springsteen, Dylan, and U2 are still popular is that for the adults that purchase them it presents a nostalgic ticket to their past. The youth they once used to inhabit.

Music has always been a part of my house. I knew how to flip the vinyl and land the needle by kindergarten. I played cassettes so hard that you could hear the tape screaming to be stopped. So when I was rebaptized into music in adolescence it was natural. And a seminal group in that immersion was The Roots.

I can't remember exactly how I found them though it definitely occurred because I became the biggest Tribe Called Quest fan overnight. I did amazing research about my new found love of hip-hop and found the Native Tongues, who the Roots were supposed to be the new purveyors of. So I picked up there most recent album of the time "illadelph halflife." Looking back I remember not really vibing to it as much as the Tribe or De La Soul I had picked up. But I liked it enough to get there preceding album "Do You Want More?" That was it. And now I was dedicated to the Roots. When Tribe announced their departure, and De La disappearing into the sunset, the Roots were my best hope. Since then I've been to so many Roots concerts I lost count and I've never been disappointed.

So what is with this long diatribe before the actual commentary on the album? Well like I said, music parallels life. And I kind of see the Roots as paralleling me. They've always been excellent. The critics always knew. But they've also been ambitious. And they've missed the mark a couple of times. ?uestlove, the band's musical director, has said that he basically mailed in "The Tipping Point" , their last album, and even admits it was a B-. They have had loads of musical ideas that sometimes they shouldn't have touched, or not committed to so hard. And I feel that about myself at times. Ambitious. Maybe overcommitted. Not prioritizing too well.

But "Game Theory" is a masterpiece. When I first got it, I was disappointed it was only 13 tracks. "Tipping" was only 10. They used to pack as much as they could on there. But maybe they realized that simple fact might have been holding them back. These 13 tracks are the most cohesive thing I have had the privilege to listen to ever. Every moment sounds like it was perfectly tied to the next one, even across tracks.

The music is darker, but honestly I don't think I've heard them better. And I noted this when I first heard them during their Radio City Music Hall concerts and even when I saw them in a crappy venue in Boston two months ago. The music is not all the same but they don't overstep their abilities either. Even though, it's a darker tone, your head still snaps. And you want extended breaks just to listen to the music.

Lyrically, I haven't heard Black Thought this good, well, ever. And I'm a Black Thought fan. At one point he rhymes "you're mesmerized by the calm nonchalantness." I'm not sure that nonchalantness is a word but I totally understood what he was saying. Isn't that what an emcee is supposed to do? Jay-Z is so good because he makes even drug dealing so vivid that farmers in Wyoming feel like they've been on the block. Thought does the same damn thing. Over the whole album he seems spry and agile, like there is nothing that will knock him off his game. The return of Malik B must have helped some. Since he left the group due to drug problems, I've missed him a lot. And I didn't realize how much he was missed till I heard his rapid fire flow on the track "Game Theory." Peedi Peedi also is amazing in his guest spot on the track "Long Time." Throughout, even though the content is darker, speaking about the sad state of affairs in the world today, they don't sound bogged down. Thought deals with the government and mourning all with the same aplomb and candor. It's amazing.

This album is indicative of why I even listen to music so hard in the first place. Not only can music take you somewhere, but its quality to perfectly identify with who you are is also ethereal. You may not like hip-hop but this album will be looked back upon on some VH1 special in 25 years as a turning point in music. Yeah I said it, and I meant it.

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