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The Roots: Rising Down

B+

The Roots

Album: Rising Down
Label: Def Jam

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Even if it didn't begin with a clip of The Roots at war with their old label or boast an incendiary cover that resurrects ugly Jim Crow iconography, the venerable hip-hop outfit's Rising Down would still qualify as a giant "fuck you" to Def Jam in particular and commercial hip-hop as a whole. After the resounding commercial failure of the gritty Game Theory, most acts would retreat into pop singles and slick hooks, but The Roots took the opposite path. Despite guest spots from usual suspects—Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common—Rising Down is even more uncompromising and less commercial than its predecessor.

Rising Down is heavy on the synths—not the shiny, happy synthesizers of '80s pop, but rather snarling, angry, sinister electronic machines you wouldn't want to come across in a dark alley. But the foundation remains the electric chemistry between Black Thought's unrelenting lyrical assault and ?uestlove's epic drums. Sonically and lyrically, Rising Down sustains a mood of paranoia and dread throughout, though it musters up a glimmer of hope and optimism on its final song, "Rising Up," thanks largely to the feathery guest vocals of Chrisette Michele. The Roots' uncompromising sucker punch of an album captures the sound of battle-scarred survivors intent on being the last band standing in a world and music industry steadily falling apart.