Since discovering “illadelph halflife” in 11th grade of high school I’ve been a Roots fan. They stay relevant for so many years not changing a thing but growing at the same time. This album brought me to a camp fire where a story was told, understood and retold to a whole new group.
The Roots pose a very serious question at the beginning of their new album, Undun. The question, or dilemma rather, arrives on the chorus for “Make My”, and goes something like, “They told me that the ends won’t justify the means, they told me that the end won’t justify the dreams that I’ve had since a child.” Throughout Undun, The Roots recount the history of Redford Stevens, a vehicle for Black Thought and ?uestlove to weave that same old story about the rise and fall of a young black male who sells drugs. Redford is brought up in the hood amongst despair and idleness until he takes the initiative to sell drugs, which brings him new money and fame, at least enough of it to make his friends jealous. Redford then turns cold as he finds himself alone at the top, before withering away into the icy cold placidness of wealth. He dies an untimely death. Hell, doesn’t that sound like the life and times of some of your favorite rappers? Or maybe someone in your family, a neighbor, a boss? Redford Stevens’ story sounds familiar because it is universal. His story is that of life, expressed masterfully through ?uestlove’s neo-soul instrumentals and Black Thought’s testimonial rhymes.
Although Undun may channel that “same old story”, The Roots have still managed to craft one of the simplest, most accessible, most knowledgeable, and most understanding accounts of street life, rap life, or any life the music biz has encountered in a long while. Charles Bukowski used to have a saying, “Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.”