The legendary Roots crew is an enigma within the realm of Hip-Hop because they are known for their live performance & use of instruments, moreso than for their actual albums. This is partly due to the fact that they don’t cater to the desires of fans or try to keep up with what’s going on in the current landscape of rap music. They do what they do & if you like it cool; if not try again next time. It’s also because since they make their living on the road, that they feel free to do whatever they want (& their label is willing to tolerate) when they put together a studio album. Staying with the darker sound found on their last album Game Theory; The Roots give us Rising Down, the title believed to have been taken from the book “Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means.”
Wasting no time in unleashing the title track, Black Thought is joined by Mos Def & Styles P. on “Rising Down.” The three emcees speak on the ills of society over a sparse backdrop of a keyboard loop & drums. The theme continues on “Get Busy,” as Black Thought, Dice Raw, & Peedi Crakk continue to weigh-in on what’s going in the world. Backed by a beat that sounds straight out of the NWA-era West Coast the frenetic synths & drums, accompanied by scratches by DJ Jazzy Jeff, give the verses an added sense of urgency. Despite the dark feel to the album, the songs still sound more accessible than Game Theory where at times the dark, abstract beats sometimes overshadowed the lyrics.
Not to be confused with Chuck D, Black Thought proves that he can still go in & rhyme for the sake of rhyme. The aptly titled “@ 15” showcases a young Thought at work, while “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)” lets Black Thought unleash over a flurry of drums & bass blurbs. The mood lightens up a bit sonically starting with “Criminal,” a song where Black Thought, Truck North, & Saigon reflect the plight of criminals in society. Songs “I Can’t Help It” & “I Will Not Apologize” are not necessarily bad, but they lack the energy that was on the songs that opened up the album. Long time collaborators Malik B. & Dice Raw come through to relieve Black Thought on these songs, but newcomer P.O.R.N offers little more than dead air as he spits his pedestrian rhymes.
Things pick back up near the end on “Lost Desire” featuring Malik B. and Talib Kweli. The music gets denser and more energetic, forcing the emcees to speed up their cadence to match the intensity of the beat as they reflect upon the apathy that is rampant among the community. On “The Show,” Black Thought reconnects with Common to reaffirm that despite its current condition Hip-Hop will continue on. ?uestlove’s militaristic drums set the pace as the two go through their verses with precision & purpose. The album closes with what may the crown jewel in “Rising Up.” Over an infectious Go-Go inspired beat, Black Thought along with Chrisette Michele & Wale address the downfall of urban radio and rap music as a whole. The energy of this song is what was missing from earlier tracks that strayed from the darker tone of the majority of the album.
Overall, The Roots put together a great album, which has something for everybody. Reflecting on society has given Black Thought more to talk about than his skills and in turn, it keeps the album from becoming monotonous. It’s good to have both Dice Raw & Malik B. back in the fold, lightening the load for Thought along the way as well. Other than when it slows down in the middle & when P.O.R.N. touches the mic, Rising Down stays at a high level. With both Dice & Malik, there’s really no excuse for him to be on here (Truck North gets a pass due to his verse on “Criminal”). Sonically this is probably their most fan friendly album since 1999’s Things Fall Apart, despite their continued experimentation with their sound. For everybody involved this is a good thing. Hopefully won’t have to wait another nine years for another album of this caliber from The Legendary Roots crew.