‘Cinematic Hip Hop’: The Roots’ Latest Continues To Illustrate A Moving Musical Journey

The Roots weren’t always this dark, but once they went there, they stayed there. This isn’t a bad thing, but their permanent departure might prove a stifling endeavor for new fans. The long-time devotees are used to this by now. The Roots have become the St. Vincent and Portishead of hip hop. And honestly, it’s still infectious, and strangely uplifting. Ever since Game Theory, The Roots have become less of a boombox rap band and more of an enchanting and chilling headphone jammer, and their dark musings are haunting because they resonate vastly true. There’s despair, familial misunderstanding, riddles of drug and alcohol abuse over a church organ in the satirically titled track Understand.

It’s been nearly three years since Undun, their last release, which is the longest wait between the two of The Legendary Roots Crew’s albums. The Roots’ fourteenth studio record is the shortest to date. Bearing only 11 tracks, which is unlike The Roots’ previous offerings. It is also highly orchestrated, and feels like the band scored a refined, sophisticated fantasy retelling of Boyz n The Hood. The conclusion comes way too soon, which will leave some disappointed while others will spin it on repeat immediately after the first listen to hear what they might have missed. The length makes it easy to repeat, of course, but it is laden with elements that are easy to overlook.

& Then You Shoot Your Cousin is a concept album that’s more focused than Undun, and it feels like another chapter added to a longer story that The Roots have been trying to tell for about eight years now. The story of the urban child growing up into a man, and the rising and falling that is both cynical and oddly optimistic, but only because Black Thought (and all the other lyrical contributors) have experienced the rise and fall and have seen success. They do recognize, however, that the story is still ongoing for themselves and for much of their fans, who need this honest voice, even if it is dark. “This is the moment that lasts forever,” Patty Crash cries on Never. That rise and fall is particularly evident in the last two tracks, The Unraveling, with its soothing chords that are reminiscent of a music box and Tomorrow, which reiterates that “everybody has an angel, and everybody wants tomorrow right now.”

The Roots are unraveling a universe that, for many, will feel eerily close to home and will strike hearts in a visceral way. & Then You Shoot Your Cousin is brief, but it’s mature and gets better with each repeat. In fact, it was after listening to it a day later, after the first listen, that the album’s vastly beautiful narrative became rivetingly apparent. It’s addictive, but not until the second or third time around.

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