“Hip-Hop ain't dead ‘casue the pulse is in us/
I got the everclear flow they mimosa wit it /
We are the hope of the culture they posed to listen/
And I’m ‘posed ta pivot like I'm a forward in the league/
I’m Oden wit it.”
-Wale, from “Rising Up”
The Roots are similar to most rap groups in that they claim to change the game. But unlike the majority of their counterparts, they make good on their promise both musically and lyrically. Over the past 13 years The Roots have been one of the few truly prophetic voices in the mainstream hip hop community, and Rising Down lives up to the expectation that your ears and mind will be challenged when you take in the album.
There are moments when the album is vintage Roots. Snares and cymbals drive a number of the tracks, and many of the flows embody the cadence and attitude of classic rappers from the early ‘80’s. “I Will not Apologize” and “Unwritten” speak clearly to The Roots hometown of
But the album is far from a myopic project that speaks only to insiders. A trend in The Roots ideology that continues in Rising Down is the expansion of their message. Not content to stay confined in a small philosophical box, the album’s title track opens with commentary on pharmaceutical drug corporations, the state of the environment and government surveillance.
Perhaps the most ambitions track on the entire album, the unsettling “Singing Man”, poetically tells the story of the campus shooter, the child soldier and the suicide bomber. To give voice to these characters without glorifying them is a delicate procedure, but The Roots manage to tackle it with surgical precision. By pulling the beat from the final verse and adding slight voice distortion, the group is able to convince the listener that they have truly delved into the mind of the suicide bomber.
If you do pick up Rising Down, please be aware that it is not a single-sensory experience. Like any prophetic voice, ?uestlove understood that sometimes the poetry needs to be explained for it to truly have maximum impact. The fruits of this understanding are concise but informative liner notes that fill in some of the gaps for the listeners and help them to see the methodology behind the raw emotion of the album.
Rising Down’s biggest weakness is that it focuses so intensely on describing social ills that it fails to offer much in the way of prescription. The Roots are talented and perceptive enough to be a more constructive force if their critiques were interlaced with moments of hopefulness. I’ll be the first to admit that life in the inner city can seem unconscionably bleak at times, but in the midst of all that is wrong there are still moments of joy and happiness that help us push though. The Roots have done a marvelous job of showing us what to turn from, but their message could be even more powerful if they gave us something to turn toward.