On Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means

Posted on May 5, 2008

Today’s a day shy of a week after the release of Rising Down, The Roots’ tenth effort. In the last six days two things have happened:

  1. I’ve listened enough to put a scratch in the mp3. Dad’s going to kill me.
  2. I’ve become increasingly aware of the history behind my anger. Oh, and it’ so justified.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to cut YOU specifically or ANYONE in the abstract, but I am saying that Rising Down provides an excellent road map to my aggression towards all of the people and instances between the specific and the abstraction. If William T. Vollman’s seven volumes of Rising Up and Rising Down “attempts to establish a moral calculus to consider the causes, effects, and ethics of violence” and tracks the knowing of these internationally– then The Roots give the math on why black folks might could be angry right about now. I think.

Maybe it’s more focused than that, even. It’s almost as if The Roots take us into the intimacies of their own potentials for violence and freedom, and compass how the music has served, for the last decade and a half, as their own urgent means of retaliation. The album begins with a antique for ’94 audio-recording of a Roots conference call gone super duper hyphy– screams peak out, provoked by a conversation about the band’s conflicts with the label, and the way frustrations are articulated. Whole lot of, albeit justified, black-man yelling, fuck you, fuck this, i’m trying to be heard, threatening to drop the line. Hello, hello?

And then the album begins. From there we hear Mos on the opening track, bearing witness that the earth is spinning away from itself, and someone really should let God know about it. Then they Get Busy on the required banger with appearances from long time collaborator Dice Raw and some cat named Peedi Peedi, who’s my new favorite (his cadence is mangoes). We move back to the history of inverse flight with Tariq at age 15, rhyming harder than you, your moms, and your set, ala Kool G– which really just serves as an introduction to 75 bars– a track that’s exactly what it sounds like. 75 bars of Thought on red niggas, brown niggas, high yellow niggas, and his place in all of that. The album goes on to scribble between dismal and concerned, frenetic and tactical. But in an extra live way. Like a party just before dawn on a derailed SEPTA train. Rhymes from the talented electric tenth rail. “WEB Dubois meets Heavy D and the Boys…”

If Phrenology tapped into The Roots’ mental landscape, and The Tipping Point spoke towards the fulcrum of madness, then this album moves across the vertex of intellect and a broken heart. It’s written from beyond the barrel, before the verdict. It’s post-Obama hype, pre-President Barack. It answers questions about the cultural differences between those who yell and those who take that shit personally– and how trust has been built between the two.

Plus it answers my ongoing hate on Tariq– the critique that he rarely tells a story– with the exceptions of Water, Silent Treatment and You Got Me— I been thinking Thought was just flexing his superior skill in rhyme… But the poet in me has always craved narrative. Which I didn’t think Black would ever do– until I realized that the story’s been told over 10 albums– maybe 12 or 13. Oops. He’s kind of “the Ernest Hemmingway of b-boy poems, can’t take the pen away he’s Leroi Jones.”

And with that said– It’s also worth noting that The Roots been trying to get my bourgignant behind to read since five albums back. Peep: Things Fall Apart. Phrenology. The Tipping Point. Game Theory. And now some shit named after a 7 volume McSweeney’s text. If I cared so much about stories, you’d think I’d get my library card current.

As always, Questlove’s musical direction is superior. The album has cameos out the ass- the aforementioned Mos, Kweli in tow, Peedi Peedi, Styles P, Malik B., Common, Chrisette Michelle, Patrick Stump, Saigon, Truck North– and a couple more heads. Still, somehow, none seem out of place, or additions for crossover purposes. Everyone’s rhyming to the same end– like they revised verses, or something. Or wrote in the same place.

Rising Down is musically light years beyond that The Dream single you’ve been knocking all week, and the Danity Kane jump I’ve had on repeat. (Do do you have a first aid kit handy?) I’m pretty sure this album is the alcohol to Bad Boy’s hydrogen peroxide. Both from brown containers, but one’s a little cleaner, a little more burn in the wound.

And don’t your life sting from time to time? Make you want to holler? Soundtrack it with this.

Thickwit approves.

5 Replies to "On Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means"

  • xtined
    May 5, 2008 (9:39 pm)

    My last three days have revolved around the album.

    I accepted myself as a DC resident when I heard rising Up with Wale.

    agreed on all thoughts.

  • ixley
    May 6, 2008 (2:53 pm)

    So you’re saying this is more realer hip hop than Soulja Boy then, right?

  • nate
    May 7, 2008 (2:36 am)

    yeah girl

  • Elz
    May 7, 2008 (1:34 pm)

    i knew i had just 34.23 in my checking account until my next paycheck NEXT friday. i knew i would have to be careful with my finances between now and then. but then i read your rising down blog and bought the thing. balance: $24.24.

    your writing is many things, one of which is good for the economy.


  • colinresponse
    May 8, 2008 (2:34 am)

    you may not remember me but this colin ehara, friend of adriel, ruby, fritz and hella other beautiful people we know mutually (and you hosted the Youth Empowerment Summit performances at SFSU when I worked for Making Waves). my brother greg mitchell put me on to your blog and im in love with your writing.

    i just reviewed this album on my blog http://colinresponse.wordpress.com and agree that it is pure fire. blackthought has always been one of my favorite emcees/poets and i pay special attention to every track of everyone of their albums the day it comes out.

    anyhoo, your mind works in the freshest of ways. keep on por favor.


Got something to say?

Some html is OK