Late Night with The Roots
Review by Athena Dixon-DeMary
Late Night with The Roots with a bias. A long time ago I deemed Do You Want More?! to be their best work. Consequently, I compare everything else stamped with their name to it. However, in recent years my ears have had to adjust to increasingly dark albums and collaborations. On this album I expected some new jazz infused hip-hop, a Black Thought verse here and there and perhaps a drum solo or two. I thought that I would hear small soundbites meant to be sandwiched between commercial breaks and witty banter, but what I got was nothing I expected. Despite my yearning for a Roots album, and my bias notwithstanding, I did appreciate the highs and find fault with the lows on Late Night with The Roots, but unfortunately most of the LP is fair to middlin'.
“How I Got Over” opens the album on a lukewarm note. I feel like I've heard this all before. It's a sped up, old soul sound that after a frenetic opening settles into a decent enough groove. What's missing is the grit, the urgency of the album version. Somehow the energy captured in the studio is more alive than an up close and personal rendition.
Last of a Dying Breed”. Suffice it to say this one had me questioning how in the WORLD is there a song of this nature without Black Thought running across the stage and bodying Ludacris for the mic? Now, I understand this is not Black's track, but the “new” Ludacris has yet to win me over. I won't deny him his clever punchlines, but he's gotten lazy. Listen to any feature of his over the last three or so years. Overall this track seems forced. The musicality of The Roots behind him is askew from what I expect or maybe some songs aren't made to be backed by a live band.
Thankfully “Casa Bey” gives me the same life as the CD version. It's an excellent live re-imaging that captures the original rollick and roll. Stripped down just enough to highlight all parts of the song, vocals and music, this is what should happen when The Roots back someone else's work. There's a natural fit here.
In addition to the stellar appearance by Mos Def, the rest of the album has it's good points. Look for tracks such as “History”, again Mos Def, “Baby” by Ghostface Killah, and “Pretty Girls” by Wale (harkens back to “Rising Up”). Here the live instrumentation doesn't take away from the guest artists, nor does the band get lost amid mediocrity.
However, the true standouts of the album come late in the game and if you made it this far you are in for a treat. “Dollaz and Sense” and “Telling Me Things” featuring RZA and “Bring The Noise” with Public Enemy show that when the band branches out from standard hip-hop and jazz based compositions they are still powerful, just in a different manner.
But for every one of the guest spots named above you have “Baby By Me” and “Do You Think About Me?” by 50 Cent and “Magnificent” by Rick Ross. Again, the fit's not right. I suspect it's because the basic composition of the original tracks were lackluster and trying to spruce them up with some drums and keys has the poor hands of everyone involved showing.
If The Roots are destined to put more time in to working for a late night show and performing with others, perhaps they should continue to develop musical relationships with artists who are elevated by their presence instead of vice versa.
If you would like to read more from the divine Mrs. Dixon-Demary you can check her out at Fledgling Fashionista.
*Final image is courtesy of Jenali.
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