Release Date: Dec 6, 2011
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Rap, Alternative Rap, Political Rap
Years back, Canadian Rock band The Guess Who released a song called “Undun. ” The song starts with the line, “She’s come undun / She didn’t know what she was headed for / And when I found what she was headed for / It was too late. ” Sharing a title with The Roots’ 14th studio album (including the recent release of Betty Wright: The Movie) is befitting – as The Guess Who painted a picture of a woman who spirals downward in a manner similar to Redford Stephens, the lead in The Roots’ first concept album.
The Roots' 13th release is a concept album with a bravura twist: It narrates the story of a bootstrapping hustler in reverse, from death to birth. The morally ambiguous gangster tale is a pop-culture staple; unfortunately, Black Thought’s skilled but stolid rapping adds nothing new to the idiom. Sonically, though, undun is a knockout, sliding between genres, with the slinky digital grooves of songs like "Sleep" rubbing against the guitar-anddrums assault of "Stomp." The record ends with a three-part instrumental, including some mighty Elvin Jones-style bashing by Questlove – a musical coda more gripping than the saga that preceded it.
The Roots' umpteenth album is titled after a Guess Who song mutilated by countless lounge bands since 1969. It incorporates a Sufjan Stevens recording, mixtape-style, for the purpose of starting a four-part instrumental suite that closes a program lasting only 40 minutes. Based on those details, it would not be irrational to think that the band’s well of inspiration might be dry or tainted.
Despite their buoyant presence as Jimmy Fallon’s late-night house band, the Roots have always been at their best expressing quiet desperation and spinning old-school tales of struggling upward. Their 12th album crackles, undun, with knowing lines like ”I live life trying to tip the scales my way” (via guest MC Dice Raw). That perfectly distills the band’s shark-like worldview, in which there’s no room for pregnant pauses or musical atrophy — just hunger.
The Roots have always had this knack for finding a balance between necessary creative exploration and accessibility among even the most casual fans of hip-hop, of being able to bring joy and light in one breath and cerebral political discourse in the next, human darkness in the one after that. One minute, they could be covering Run-D. M.
P.O.S. :: Chill, dummyDoomtree RecordsAuthor: Patrick TaylorI've been a fan of Stefon "P.O.S." Alexander since his debut nearly 10 years ago. On "Audition" and 2009's "Never Better," he proved himself to be one of the few artists who could successfully meld punk rock and hip-hop. Fellow Minnesotans ….
Review Summary: If there's a Heaven, I can't find a stairwayWhile the idea of telling a story in reverse is a concept not entirely new to the music world, to take Philadelphia collective The Roots’ latest full length at its word, undun begins with the hope that salvation might lie ahead for Redford Stevens. That the crushing finality and almost taunting steadiness of the heart monitor that opens up the album is merely a possible scenario, one that might only come to pass. The sad reality of undun is that the narrative never bursts with the possibility of options, it’s a by-the-numbers recount of a story that we’re all too familiar with - a man born to the streets, dying young out of ignorance, forever memorialized as simply another young casualty of life; adorned in nothing more than a shroud of hospital sheets he sits aboard a steel raft of cast iron wheels, slowly being led down halls of pale fluorescent light and the deafening cries of utter silence.
undun is a deceptively tough nut to crack. On its surface, undun feels like another step in the mature, indie-oriented direction the Legendary Roots Crew set their sights on with last year’s How I Got Over. The production is full of pianos, somewhat abstract Radiohead-like interludes and soul hooks from longtime associates Dice Raw and Bilal. Aside from a few tracks, it’s a notably subdued album, particularly during its opening and closing sections.
Taking time out from house band duties on Jimmy Fallon's NBC talk show, veteran Philadelphia hip-hop group the Roots have made a new album – their 10th – about shattered dreams and early death. Billed as "an existential retelling of the short life of one Redford Stevens (1974-1999)", Undun is also a mirror held up to present-day America, where ambitions are more likely to die than prosper. It's a downer, but timely and affecting, with moments of beauty.
When you hear the words "concept album," you often worry that what follows will be a pretentious mess covering up a lack of decent songs. Thankfully, the Roots' 13th album finds the soulful hip-hop band aiming high and hitting their target. Undun tells the story of the short, tragic life of the fictional Redford Stevens, who's named for indie folk hero Sufjan Stevens's song Redford.
Undun is the story of a man, Redford Stevens, dying in reverse, rewinding from the moment he became a statistic and hitting the points in his life where he's at his most self-aware. That he's a criminal who got caught up in the familiar street-hustle trappings that the modern media's documented countless times is a pivotal detail-- it's hit at an angle that seems to emphasize the futile inevitability of it all. His life could be any number of misdirected narratives that ends with a toe tag, and what details listeners learn about him are hazy, buried under archetypal turns of fate and decisive struggles.
For being the house band of a late-night comedy show (to wit: Jimmy Fallon’s), The Roots sure are taking things seriously these days. undun, the Philadelphia hip-hop octet’s first-ever concept album, chronicles the struggle of Redford Stephens (inspired by Sufjan Stevens’s Michigan cut “Redford”), a semi-fictional 25-year-old who enters the world of pushing drugs as a means of escaping poverty. The twist? The tale begins at the end, as the buzz of an EKG flatline signals Redford’s death right after the opening track, “Dun“, commences.
In 2009, the Roots became the house band for the late-night show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Fans of the endlessly experimental hip-hop group though they would ratchet down their productivity, but the Roots fired back with 2010's excellent How I Got Over and a Wake Up!, a fine covers album with neo-soul/R&B singer, John Legend. The Legendary Roots Crew's tenth album and fourth for Def Jam is a heady and existential concept record centering on the life of the fictional character Redford Stevens.
It’d be unfair to call undun ‘hip-hop’ and nothing other. The Roots are, of course, both boom-bappers in every immediate sense of the word and their storied tradition: black, urban Americans kick-snaring urban ghetto narratives that rhyme. Hip-hop always has and still seems their creative impetus — say, a young something-teen-year-old ?uesto’s knuckles banging on a hollow and anything-but-acoustic art school lunch table with friend Tariq’s freestyling emotions, drawing a crowd — the nihilists, slidy-eyed thugs, and even goths otherwise unseen behind black bangs and nails stroking their still-wet still-life portraits — all nodding.
Anyone who forgot the Roots’ wrathful gravitas as a result of the group’s recent mellow albums was given an intoxicating refresher when they welcomed Michele Bachmann onto Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with a taunting rendition of Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” It was an explosive, cheeky display that cut through any sanctimony left in Bachmann’s long-ago sputtering geek-show campaign. So naturally, Fallon himself Tweeted an olive branch to the woman on the Roots’ behalf, which goes to show that some prefer their anger slow-cooked and predigested. Though only a pithy 38 minutes in length, the Roots’ new album, Undun, serves up indignation in such manner: tempered, strung out in a rolling wave of despair and discontent.
The house band on Jimmy Fallon's US talk show, the Roots recently accompanied a Republican politician's guest spot with the Fishbone song, Lyin' Ass Bitch. That kind of mischief isn't among the ingredients of the Philiadelphia collective's first concept album; the story of a dead young man called Redford's struggles and mistakes in reverse. It opens with a heart monitor flatlining, before tinkling pianos and warm melodies deliver lines pondering mortality and whether heavenly bagpipes await those "born on the wrong side of the crack pipe".
The hip hop veterans prove they can tell a captivating story on their latest studio LP. Marcus J. Moore 2011 To grow up in an urban landscape is to struggle with perseverance and survival, a regular cat-and-mouse game in which the winners find ways to navigate the desperate metropolis and the unlucky fall victim to life’s tempting seductions. It’s a dangerous battle boasting certain success stories and weighted with unfortunate casualties.
Late-night TV's most famous house band rarely goes short on practice time these days, but what gets lost between Justin Timberlake guest spots and remakes of Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" is "Thought @ Work. " There's just not enough Black Thought on Jimmy Fallon. Undun, the Roots' 11th album and first to be fully made with the Philadelphia crew holding post at NBC, is not only their most musically fluid since 1999's Things Fall Apart; lyrically, it's their most concise.
One mission isn’t enough for the Roots, who have released two albums almost simultaneously. “Undun” (Def Jam), the Roots’ own 13th studio album, arrived on Tuesday, and a collaboration with the soul singer Betty Wright, “Betty Wright: The Movie” (Ms. B/S-Curve) came out on Nov. 15. The ….
The Roots may be best known in the mainstream for their nightly gig as the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and through the years they’ve justifiably become attached to an extrordinary live show. Now, though, they’ve returned to the studio for their latest retail release, undun, where they take a new approach: a concept album, with the storytelling in reverse order. Recounting the first-person tale of Redford Stephens, a hustler who didn’t make it past 25, the Philly based band begins the record with his death, and tracks the tale backward, as the album’s ill-fated protagonist faces the street life and its often inescapable woes.