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The Roots & “UnDun”

The Album Undun, in so many words is “in many ways much like a screenplay or novel”. Those are the words from Black Thought one of the founding architects of The Legendary Roots Crew in a recent Vibe Magazine interview. In many ways that’s exactly what this album was organically was created to be. After almost 20 years since their debut album The Roots have crafted a concept album based on a fictitious character named Redford Stephens, a man torn between the harsh realities of the street life, and the trials and tribulations that come along with it. Along with the life-like narratives of this young mans life, comes a story of the course of the album told in reverse order, beginning with Redford Stephens demise on the haunting opening track “Sleep”, where Black Thought raps…

To catch a thief, who stole the soul I prayed to keep
Insomniac, bad dreams got me losin sleep
I’m dead tired, my mind playin tricks, deceit
A face in the glass, unable to admit defeat
All that I am all that I was is history
The past unraveled addin, insult to this injury
I’m, fightin the battle for the soul of the century
Destiny is everything that I pretend to be
Look, and what I did came back to me eventually
The music, played on and told me I was meant to be awake
It’s unresolved like everything I had at stake
Illegal activity controls my black symphony
Orchestrated like it happened oncidentally
Oh.. there I go from a man to memory
Damn, I wonder if my fam will remember me”

On the track “One Time” the Roots stand in member Dice Raw raps from the tragic perspective of Redford Stephens….

“I wonder when you die, do you hear harps and bagpipes
if you born on the other side of the crack pipe?
N****z learn math just to understand the crack price
Then dive in, head first like the jack knife
Cause out here, yo you niggaz cant belly flop
If you wanna make the noise, inside your belly stop
On time means, bein on the front line
Being on the front means duckin one time
The pendulum swingin my way, couldn’t be more blind
N****z talk to the cops? Not even one time
’cause we all goin down, just like the subprime
or a cheap-ass half gallon of Ballantine
But, hoppin over gates to escape is sublime
Been through the alley way and down to the sub line
Tales from the streets, life of high crime
to make it to the bottom, such a high climb”

On the Bilal assisted track “TheOtherSide” Black Thought  and Greg Porn contribute to the song continuing the albums dark vibes of the inner workings of what a life of crime can do to your frame of mind……

[Black Thought]t
“You might say I could be doing somethin positive
Humbled head down low and broke like promises
Soakin and broken in a joke like comics is
Not enough paper to be payin folks compliments
But when that paper got low, so did my tolerance
And it ain’t no TRUTH in a dare, without the consequence”

[Greg Porn]
“Every night I’m crossin a line that ain’t the finish
Every thought is dark as a glass of fuckin Guinness
To far gone to come back to my senses
Now I’m on the edge of my bed makin love to my meds
Every moments like a pistol to my head when I’m gettin mine”

If there was one song that captures the essence of the mental and physical obstacles of Redford Stephens its the last song on the album “Tip The Scale”. On the track Black Thought and Dice Raw’s verses and hook delve into essence of Redford’s troubles on the song they rap….

[Black Thought]

“Yo, I’m always early, I never take off
’cause I got a job: rob Peter to pay Paul
Now I realize it’s the winner that takes all
Do what I gotta do, because I can’t take loss
Picture me livin life as if I’m some animal
that consumes its own dreams like I’m a cannibal
I won’t accept failure, unless it’s mechanical
But still the alcohol, mixed with the botanical
I guess I be referred to the owner’s manual full of loaners
Full of all the homeless throwaways and the stoners
Soldiers of the streets with 8th grade diplomas
and the world awaitin their shoulders as a bonus
Look, let he without sin live without sin
Until then, I’ll be doing dirty jobs like Swamp Men
Countin the faces of those that might have been
It’s like, livin that life but I won’t live that life again”

[Dice Raw]

“Lotta n****z go to prison, how many come out Malcolm X?
I know I’m not… shit, can’t even talk about the rest
Famous last words: You under arrest
Will I get popped tonight? It’s anybody’s guess
I guess, a nigga need to stay cunning
I guess when the cops coming need to start runnin
I won’t make the same mistakes from my last run-in
You either done doin crime now or you done in
I got a brother on the run and one in
Wrote me a letter he said, “When you comin?”
Shit, man, I thought the goal’s to stay out
Back against the wall, then shoot your way out
Gettin money’s a style that never plays out
’til you in a box and your stash money’s paid out
The scales of justice ain’t equally weighed out
Only two ways out: diggin tunnels or diggin graves out”

What makes the “UnDun” album so special is not only the creativity or the conceptualised story in reverse, without giving you a feeling of unnecessary gangster banter, its simply the fact that the album is enjoyable. Even in its somber and dark tone the work behind the boards done by Questlove and his crew keep the album at a head nodding tempo throughout. However the only misstep to a very small degree may be “Make My” Featuring K.R.I.T., the songs vibe has too much of sleppyness to it, and lacks the kick production wise to keep up with the rest of the album. Now while each track in its own way has high replay value and dopeness to it, the entire record still stays true to the theme, painting the missteps of Redfords life. Unlike the last few Roots albums which although overall were high quality, this album more so is a notch above because of its focused effort packaged in a concise 9 Song offering. So whether it’s on the hustlers flossy dream on the track, “Kool On”, or the Just Blaze-ess banger “Stomp” or the groovy “Lighthouse” the Album barely never misses a beat towards being one of the top albums of 2011.   #HaitianJack

 Scores:  UnDun  (Released Dec 2011)

  Bars:  XL    Beats:  XL    Music:  XXL     Report Card: A-


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