The week of June 15th-June 22nd saw the release of three of the year’s biggest hip hop albums. While Eminem’s Recovery averaged out to be a return to the wordplay and rhymes of records past, the remaining two albums presented a study in contrast that is abundant in the world of hip-hop. Drake’s Thank Me Later saw the content smothered by the hype, unable to deliver emotional cohesion and inventive flows. On the other hand, The Roots‘ How I Got Over, their ninth studio album, showed the youngster how genuinely emotional rap is made not in flash, but in the places outside all the buzz.
With beats by a real-life backing band, The Roots have always stood out from other hip hop groups, and this record sees the group further their roles as innovators in a myriad of ways. They’ve always infused their hip hop methods with tinges of R&B and neo-soul, but How I Got Over gets boosts from the folksy drawl of Yim Yames on “Dear God 2.0″ and the yelpy, pixie wail of Joanna Newsom on “Right On”. Together, these alt-leaning acts add to The Roots’ sound and give the album a sheen of a clear and concise devotion to mining new sources of musical collaboration. But in hip hop, a landscape where cameos can often outshine an MC or the song itself, The Roots demonstrate that while Yames and Newsom give them indie cred, the band themselves are the main attractions. By utilizing Yames’ voice to build a base of emotion and minimalism in the powerful, often alien voice of Newsom, they make the guests work for their intended sound. And more than making the most of your living resources, “Hustla” takes the Auto-Tuned cries of a child and a heavy cadence and makes a track brimming with an angry kind of hope for the future.
Even while taking steps ahead sonically, the group always remembers the particular sound they are known for. “Radio Daze” stands out as a front-runner for best track, in that, beyond the inventive rhymes and jazz-tinged progression, it’s a track that best represents the kind of sound that The Roots have always had while still remaining fresh and relevant each time around. “The Day”, built on a slow, strummy pace that’s punctuated by the slightly gravely, always soulful voice of Patty Crash, illuminates the concept that it’s the little steps that make a track truly evocative. With two songs featuring John Legend, the band offers the listener the depth of their tried and true old school ways, pulling forth a particularly emotional performance from Legend in “Doin It Again” and a modernized version of a soul-heavy arena rock anthem with “The Fire”.
How I Got Over is The Roots’ sound at its very best, working its hardest to blend rap, rock, soul, R&B, pop, and a boatload of other influences without the pat-on-the-back mentality other acts might give themselves at merging so much of music’s history in one fluid effort. They present a sound that is one part total familiarity and one part technical prowess, miles apart from their competitors. So while others rule the charts, The Roots make a statement that their sound does not need platinum and gold to be proven triumphant.