The Roots are a really weird band. I don’t say that because their music is all that different than other rap groups, but because I have never seen anyone say “The Roots suck” (though knowing Brad, he’ll probably comment on this saying just that). There are obviously people out there who just can’t get into the music, but even these people seem to always respect what The Roots can do. I’ve never seen another group (hip-hop or otherwise) that gets this type of treatment. Even the “rap is crap” people don’t hate on The Roots because they’re a full band with live instruments. They’re a really consistent band; even their worst albums aren’t really bad, they’re just “bad for The Roots”.
Fortunately, this streak of consistently good albums has continued with the newly-released “How I Got Over”. Unlike most hip-hop albums, How I Got Over is an album in the truest sense of the word. This isn’t just a dozen singles thrown together in a random order; the songs fit together seamlessly as it transitions from one track to another (occasionally with the help of interludes). That said, individual songs can still stand on their own very well (especially the songs in the second half of the album).
Although How I Got Over comes in at a quick and easy 42 minutes, it still almost feels like two completely different albums. The first five or so songs have a downbeat, almost depressing tone to them. One such example is Dear God 2.0, where The Roots’ Black Thought raps about all the struggles and ugliness in the world over a beat that fits the lyrics very well. About halfway through the album comes the actual How I Got Over song, where Black Thought decides to sing. Thankfully this is the only time he sings on the album; the singing works for this song, but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to hear an album full of his singing because he doesn’t have a particularly good singing voice. After this point, the songs generally have a more upbeat, catchier feeling to them.
Right after “How I Got Over” and the “DillaTude” interlude comes a barrage of really awesome songs. The first of these is “The Day”, featuring rappers Blu & Phonte and singer Patty Crash. Blu is featured on two songs on this album with “Radio Daze” being the other track he’s on earlier in the album. Even though he’s only on two songs, he almost steals the show (which is saying a lot considering I think Black Thought is one of the best rappers of all-time). I’ve always liked Blu, but I’m not one of those people who thinks his “Below the Heavens” album with producer Exile was the best album of the last decade. Exile’s production left me underwhelmed, but Blu fits The Roots perfectly. Both of Blu’s verses on this album, especially his verse on “The Day”, are two of my favorite verses I’ve heard from this year.
After “The Day” comes the track I was most skeptical about on this album…”Right On” featuring rapper STS and singer Joanna Newsom. Maybe I’ll lose all credibility with the internet (I’m not entirely sure what that means) for saying this, but I usually can’t stand Joanna Newsom. I can’t finish one of her songs without her voice giving me a headache. Luckily, I had no problems whatsoever with “Right On”. This song made me realize that Joanna Newsom is pretty good if you keep her relegated to the chorus, and the weird contrast of her voice with the rapping of Black Thought and STS works better than I was expecting.
After Joanna Newsom comes John Legend with the songs “Doin It Again” and “The Fire” (though his voice is just sampled on Doin’ It Again). Unlike Joanna Newsom, John Legend seemed like he would be a perfect fit for The Roots and he is just that. “The Fire” is probably the catchiest song on this album. I can’t emphasize enough just how great this stretch of “The Day”, “Right On”, “Doin’ It Again”, and “The Fire” is.
After those tracks comes an interlude followed by “Web 20/20” and “Hustla” which feel a little out of place. Hustla is really weird, since the main sample is an autotuned baby crying. I’m not joking (I made sure to include the song at the bottom of this review). It’s not bad and it’s not one of those mainstream autotuned songs by the likes of T-Pain…it’s just kinda strange. I wouldn’t have minded if the album ended after “The Fire” to be honest.
Despite this minor complaint, How I Got Over is still a pretty great album. I’ve pretty much had it on repeat since I got it (as I write this, The Roots have 115 plays in the last week on my LastFM — all of those plays are from this album). Right now this is the front-runner for my album of the year…but with Big Boi set to release his awesome-looking album in a couple weeks, How I Got Over’s “front-runner” status may be short-lived.
Final Score: 8.75/10