Album Review: The Roots - …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

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With an eye-catching album title, The Roots are back with their 11th full-length album and their first to be issued during their tenure as the The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon band.

Where one would expect that the guys from Philadelphia would go for a cross-over pop move, having a built-in audience, instead they give us this dark, brooding concept album.

The Roots have made their name by not giving the listener what they want, but what they need.

Twenty years ago, The Roots were (ironically) the red-headed stepchild of DGC Records. Owned by taste-maker David Geffen and mostly featuring 90s alt-rockers like Nirvana, Beck, Counting Crows, Hole and Weezer, The Roots were the only hip hop act on the label. They didn't fit in. Ironically, they didn't fit in with the world of hip hop at the time either.

Featuring a full fledged live band and a "socially conscious" mc (Black Thought) The Roots were afforded no love in the gangster rap circles of the era. The Roots were left with only one option. Tour their asses off.

So the guy kept their heads down and toured throughout the 90s, proving themselves to be not only one of the best live bands in hip hop, but music in general. They even signed to a major label without the help of a hit single. Lead rapper Black Thought is often not even the most recognizable member of the group.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the drummer, is and has always been the face of The Roots, especially now that the group is a large part of late-night network television.

All these things should be roadblocks for the group, but instead, they add up to something less quantifiable than success... personality.

So how is the new album? The whole thing zooms by in 33 minutes (unheard of in the world of hip hop albums), three of the tracks don't even feature raps from Black Thought. The first track is merely an old recording of Nina Simone. Roadblocks, or personality? You decide. When the group does bang out a few upbeat tracks like "Black Rock" and "Understand" The Roots are untouchable.

Catchy chord progressions meet up with street lyricism in a dark alley and fight it out. But too often songs are bogged down by faceless soul singers ("When The People Cheer" "The Devil") pushing you to ask "Where are the rhymes?" What is good here is really good though which makes the album slightly frustrating.

To go back to the question of whether or not these eccentricities are roadblocks or personality, I would say with ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, The Roots have simply created another roadblock.

I give it 3 and 1/2 Empty Lighthouses out of 5.

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