Mixtape Chic gives it 4.25 out of 5 sneaks
Concept albums are one in a million. If anyone could put together a concept album that is well versed and thought provoking, it is The Roots. The Roots’ 10th album Undun brings the life of Redford Stephens to light. This album tells his story including his demise. The album’s concept is evident in all aspects of features and premises.
As the intro to the album, “Dun” starts it sounds like someone is flat lining but then the music slowly creeps in. The sounds are distinct yet are all mixed up to where you cannot decipher where it is going. As the music gets louder you can hear heavy breathing (Redford) that eventually leads to a loud scream. “Sleep” plays on facing death. Things that Redford had formerly done have now caught up with him. Redford is coming to terms with his fate which is death. “Oh. There I go, from a man to a memory.”
Big K.R.I.T. definitely holds his own on “Make My.” He and Black Thought (aka Redford) come with different emotions in their verses but they both make them fit with the premise of the track. This song plays on suicide.
“I’m contemplating a special dedication. To whoever it concerns, my letter of resignation” - Black Thought
It also touches on the fact that the road to greatness is rough and even when you make it; it’s not as great as hoped for.
Phonte, Dice Raw and Black Thought all come through in their own ways on “One Time.” As Phonte comes in first with his tough, “right at you” flow, you cannot help but hear the dismay he has towards those “fake rappers”.
“If too much money talking, we make ‘em economize. Real rap, no tale spinning…” - Phonte.
Next, Black Thought comes with his powerful delivery. Touching on reaching but never actually making it to that prosperous point in life.
“Man, I guess if I were actually lucky it was one time. Then I went missing looking for the sublime. A n**** stayed low, left the latter unclimbed. Time after time, verse blank, the line unrhymed.”- Black Thought
Lastly, Dice Raw comes through flowing about facets of crime and how even though some try and try to advance in the game, it doesn’t usually work that way.
“Tales from the streets. A life of high crime. To make it to the bottom. Such a high climb.” – Dice Raw
The two featured artists on did their thing on “Kool On.” Both set up storylines that you could picture from beginning to end. Showing us how it is to live the high life. As always, Black Thought shows his skills. I love “The Otherside!” Bilal is the perfect addition on the hook when it comes to Black Thought’s rhymes. Greg Porn is featured on the 3rd verse. While Greg talks about how being on the top is not enough, “I’m sitting on top of the world ready to jump off,” Black Thought talks about the necessity of money. I love the fact that there is no hook being sung on “Stomp.” Just Blaze’s near screaming dialogue adds to the core of the track. Black Thought emphasizes murder in his verse while Greg Porn reverts to crime talk including not feeling himself because of what he has done but also being good at what he does. Dice Raw dominates “Lighthouse,” spitting a rhyme before the hook and a verse as well as singing the hook. He and Black Thought evoke the fight of self. Each emcee questions their own existence making the track seem more of a question of suicide than just hatred for oneself. “I Remember” is a song of reflection. Redford is reflecting on what his life has become as well as how he came to be where and who he is.
“It’s pain living against the grain. I’m looking back and y’all look the same. Troy, Mark and little what’s his name. Memory is rerunning it all. It’s the flight of my fall.” – Black Thought
On “Tip the Scale,” Redford is still contemplating suicide but at the same time still living the life of crime so that he can be “living well.” The last few tracks on the album can represent different aspects of Redford’s existence. “Redford” has a peaceful/hopeful sound as if Redford is calm and content at some point. “Possibility” provides a since of contemplating and Redford thinking “well maybe.” “Will To Power” is all over the place. Its presentation, a disarray of drums and piano, represent the disordered mindset that at some point plagued Redford. On “Finality” Redford is back to being content.
Overall, this album was done well in all aspects. It was well thought conceptually and raises the bar for those that will come after. I can only wish there was a book to accompany it.
Network Chic gives it 4.5 out of 5 sneaks
Network Chic gives it 4.5 out of 5 sneaks
The Roots new album undun is whimsical artistry. In fact, one should not use a flatiron or any other heated appliances while listening (I burned my arm cause I was doting on a particular song on this album). Now, I sit here typing with one hand in an effort to capture the capricious nature of The Roots latest quest. This concept album weaves a reverse narrative of Redford Stephens and the range of free will that impacts this fictional character’s life.
It’s hard to break up the tracks because they are a parallel syntax of each other as they unravel the life of Redford. However, I will take you through a few arrangements that leap out to me. “Sleep” starts us off with Redford’s death and his thoughts catching that which took him down this path and who would remember his memory. Next, we go into one of my favorite tracks off of undun featuring Big K.R.I.T. “Make My” where Redford is reflecting on the choices he has made bringing him here today. The fluidity of this track from instruments to lyrics are wondrous.
We then continue to “One Time” and “Kool On” followed by another one of my favorites, “The Otherside.” This track shows Redford’s exploration of his choice into a life of crime and essentially performing a cost benefit analysis of his decision and whether the grass is greener on the other side as shown by the line, “that hindsight 20/20.” In reverse, we next end up at “Stomp” and then “Lighthouse.” The latter is another standout to me on this conceptual album. Everyone has felt like they are all alone at some point in time and there is no one there who cares enough that you are drowning (whether self-inflicted or by circumstance). In and of itself, this song is a song that people can relate to across cultures, ethnic backgrounds, economic circumstance and gender.
We start winding down the album with “I Remember” and “Tip the Scale.” Both are great songs that give us the concept of Redford’s decisions, particularly in “Tip the Scale.” It showcases the struggles that many face in determining how they are going to make it day to day with the many obstacles put in front of us. Fact of the matter, as so eloquently put is, “The scales of justice ain’t equally weighed out; only two way outs, digging tunnels or digging graves out.” The former, “I remember” shows the first indicia of when Redford sees the path he chose and reflecting on what his life was before.
undun closes us out with beautiful instrumental melodies that allow us time to create our own beginnings and reflect on choices to make better decisions tomorrow.
As a whole, I love this thought-provoking, well-articulated story of a character that is reminiscent of someone we know.
Photo Chic gives it 5 out of 5 sneaks
The Roots are my favorite group of all time. I’ve come of age to their music. I purchased their first album and every one there-after. For me to write an album review on their work is extremely hard for me and yes, I am bias, and I don’t really care. Do know that I only give albums a 5 if I can listen to them straight through without skipping and this is one of those albums and so much more. My brain actually hurts. I want to get people together and have intellectual conversations about this album and what is happening with the storyline. The album is extremely dark, but definitely one of the top albums of 2011 in my opinion.
In case you didn’t notice, undun is a concept album. It tells the story of a man (merely 25 years of age), Redford Stephens, plagued by drugs and violence. The album takes you through his story in one fluid, multi-dimensional, musical composition. There’s no skipping around for me. I listen to it from beginning to end, each time. The music matches the lyricism. We don’t only hear the words of Stephens through Black Thought’s rhyme, we here it through the music, often times strictly instrumental. My favorite tracks on the album are actually just that, the instrumentals. With the opening track “Dun” we seem to come upon Stephen’s heart beat (in my interpretation), leading into a scream that implicates his reflection on what has happened to his life during his impending death. I picture him (as a ghost) screaming as he hovers over his limp body. The album starts with his death which we can imply from “Sleep” and opens up with the stories of how he got to that point. At the end of the album with “Redford,” “Possibility,” “Will to Power,” and “Finality” we get taken through a series of events. I feel like on “Redford” and “Possibility” we get the slightest glimmer of hope from this dreary and sad story. Redford reflects and the music sounds like he is seeing a tiny ray of light or promise (possibly even “the light” said to be seen while dying). “Will to Power” takes us right back to reality and struggle. I feel like this instrumental actually plays out Redford’s physical death. Struggling during a scuffle and getting shot or stabbed. “Finality” gives us the relief in knowing Redford his finally passed on to the light. The dreadful life he has lived is over. Again, just my interpretation, which makes this album so deep. It can be interpreted many different ways, which is why I won’t even get into the actual lyrics of the album. Just know the guest features flow perfectly in this dismal story of Stephen’s demise. Told through the voice of one of the best emcees in hip hop EVER, Black Thought.
Take in each song and elaborate on the story. This isn’t an album you can grasp on one listen. As I write, I’ve listened to this album everyday for a week (and even over a week through free streaming) and I still discover something new in the tale every day. I even struggled trying to write a review. I wanted to just say, “Buy this album. It is really good. The end.” I really had no other words to describe it, initially. Everyone can interpret the words differently and form a story of what they think is going on, which I love about this album. It’s like a classic poem. In fact, if I was a high-school AP teacher, we’d be breaking this one down in class over several weeks. The Roots have really out done themselves with this concept album. You just have to listen to it and see for yourself. Now go!