How I Got Over, The Roots’ ninth studio album, is both a radical departure from the group’s last effort, Rising Down, and a return to its early days. The angry, almost apocalyptic sound and bleak lyrics of Rising Down and its predecessor, Game Theory, seemed designed at least partly as an answer to, and apology for, the commercial compromises of 2004’s The Tipping Point. But How I Got Over hearkens back to the neo-soul mellowness of The Roots’ mid-’90s output, while songs like the infectious title track retain Tipping Point’s pop savvy.
The sound is as airy and intimate as Rising Down was claustrophobic and menacing. The lyrics favor moody introspection, as an unusually subdued Black Thought and guests like Phonte (who appears on both “Now Or Never” and “The Day”) contemplate struggles internal and external, and the eternal war with temptation in a world fraught with unrest and turmoil. After 12 tracks of coffee-house bliss and soothing grooves, “Web 20/20” unleashes Black Thought’s otherwise restrained aggression and chest-beating bravado. It’s a left turn that highlights the tight cohesiveness of the rest of the album. How I Got Over might actually be too consistent; “Web 20/20” aside, it sometimes registers as one long song. Thankfully, it’s a hell of a tune.