Last year, Lauryn Hill declared, "I treat this like my thesis," in her blockbuster The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. So, in the spirit of one-upsmanship, the band The Roots did one better this year. With their latest album, Things Fall Apart, the band goes as far as to add footnotes in their liner notes about the origins of each of their songs.
It's a neat gesture but it is by far not a novelty. Things Fall Apart wastes no time in persuading the listener that he or she is listening to an "important album." The album opens up with a snipit from the Spike Lee film, Mo Better Blues, in which a debate rages on about the lack of support blacks give to blues and jazz performers. Another voice criticizes the music industry for crudely marketing rap albums as merely product, not art. In essence, rap albums are not utilized. Take note, No Limit Records, this attack may be partially directed at you.
The Roots already have an advantage over most of the rap acts out there: they mostly rely on live instruments. The jazzy upright bass and the full drumming style of ?uestlove give immediate impact on every track on Things Fall Apart.
Like A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots are more interested in broadening listeners' minds rather than extending their wallets. And much like Quest, The Roots are not afraid to experiment. While the may feel at home in a jazz club, spouting off poetry, they are not afraid to show off their tougher image. In the mystic "Step Into The Relm," The Roots do a better Wu-Tang song than the band did on most of the tracks off their last double album.
The band effortlessly hops from different genres in Things Fall Apart. The album closes (well, aside from the hidden track) with a poetry slam with the band laying down a somber, moody backdrop. In "You Got Me," Erykah Badu gives a sooting voice over to a relationship that disintegrates as fast as it bloomed. It is one of the most dead honest songs written about relationships in the past few years. The moral to the song: neither one was at fault for the failure, things just fell apart.
Though some of the songs in Things Fall Apart are rooted in sadness, it doesn't stop making it the best album of the year so far to listen to with your windows down in your car on a beautiful summer day. "Dynamite!," "100% Dundee" and "The Next Movement" are fun, funky numbers that will resonate with nearly anyone with even a hint of feeling from their waist down.
Being a compulsive list maker, I can't help but compare the hip-hop/rap movement of the past few years with the heavy metal movement about a decade ago. Just as people then thought heavy metal was dead, three albums seemingly rescued the genre from extinction: Appetite For Destruction by Guns N' Roses, Master Of Puppets by Metallica and, for pop metal's sake, Hysteria by Def Leppard. Those three albums showed that metal could be commercially viable as well as add an undeniable artistic integrity to them.
In the same way, rap, though commercially viable, has come under attack by purists and narrow-minded critics for being nothing more than bass-filler albums that do nothing more than pump empty ideas into listeners' ears. With The Miseducaiton Of Lauryn Hill, Outkast's Aquemini and Things Fall Apart, that argument has been silenced. Three different landmark albums, each one no doubt will stand the test of time for years to come.