Artist: The Roots
Album: Game Theory
Comments: The Roots have always been a dark horse in hip hop. They are the anti-snap music; hip hop for the thinking man, not for the clubs. Always willing to tackle complex subjects and send a message, The Roots get a little darker and a little angrier on Game Theory, their darkest album to date, and best effort in years. With songs like “Don’t Feel Right” and “False Media” and subjects ranging from war on drugs to betrayal to death, one gets the idea that this is no party album. And while the album is very serious, it is never depressing or damning. It is a cautionary tale, a warning, and a call to change.
On the Roots’ last effort, 2004’s The Tipping Point, ?uestlove’s drumming was barely noticeable; there was never a moment on that record that caused me to sit up and appreciate how good he really is. Thankfully, Game Theory erases any concerns about ?uesto’s skills. In almost every song, the drums are pushed to the front of the mix showcasing ?uesto’s signature style of even handed, jazzed influenced kit banging. From the opening cadence in “Don’t Feel Right” to the laid back soul groove of “Long Time”, ?uestlove is all over this album, killing these songs; he quietly reminds you without being a showoff that he is the best drummer in hip hop (a genre built on rhythm and beat). ?uestlove also produced the album, and keeps it moving along quickly and with focus; there are no mid song breakdowns giving way to 5 minute jazz jams on this album, it is all business for the Roots crew on Game Theory
“Clock with No Hands” emerges as the standout track of the second half of the album, and its all because of Black Thought. Thought is a paradox; he rhymes best when he is in full on battle mode, but his laid back, peanut butter smooth delivery conveys very little emotion. This is why he is often criticized for being a poor front man and catches some noise about not being a good MC. This is nonsense; Black Thought is one of the best lyricists in hip hop even if his delivery lacks punch at times. On “Clock with No Hands”, Thought is in his battle mode speaking on unfaithful friends with a sincerity not often heard in his voice. When he declares “I might forgive/ But I do not forget”, one gets the sense that Black Thought really does have teeth after all; you can hear the anger and regret in his words, and it really makes the song work.
So with the twin dragon of ?uestlove and Black Thought firing on all cylinders, the album is a resounding success. This album calls back to the days of Things Fall Apart when the Roots were at their best. Gone are the mid song jazz freestyles, time wasting skits, and half songs, replaced with a new focus and a sense of determination. Rather than the sporadic flashes of brilliance mixed in with the mediocre, the Roots produce consistent above average, thinking man’s hip hop. The Roots are ready for war against mainstream hip hop, or the government, or the police, or the war on drugs, or anything, and this is their battle cry.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Key Tracks: "Game Theory" "Don't Feel Right" "Baby" "Clock with no Hands"
Worth The Money: Yes. Fans of Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, and the Roots other albums will eat this one up.
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