So both of these came out a while ago, and I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out how I feel about The Roots’ shortest effort. I waited on CR because I thought I’d pair it with the new Shabazz Palaces release, but a couple of spins have me seriously doubting whether I’ll recommend it or not. Hard to tell if Ishmael Butler is a genius or a pretentious sucker. Maybe he’s neither. His bandmate’s album is pretty good, though.
CHIMURENGA RENAISSANCE – Rize Vadzimu Rize (Brick Lane): First, a history lesson: Chimurenga is an old Shona word for liberation which has contemporaneously come to mean revolutionary struggle thanks to Thomas Mapfumo, an exiled Zimbabwean musician who popularized Chimurenga music in his home country by performing traditional music (largely featuring the thumb-plucked mbira) with electric instrumentation. So here we have Shabazz Palaces’ Tendai Maraire, whose father is credited for helping to import Chimurenga music Stateside, with Hussein Kalonji continuing that tradition, fusing with that music their own bizarre brand of echo-y hip-hop and lyrics of resistance. And what’s Vadzimu? Family spirits who choose their descendants as mediums, and Maraire and Kalonji channel their elders’ message of a world gone crazy where fathers hustle to do right by their children. A MINUS
THE ROOTS – …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam): If Undun was a heavy ‘concept album’ chronicling the rise and fall of fictional Redford Stevens in reverse, a tale of a drug hustler hitting the high life regardless of the cost to those around them before it all comes crashing down, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is the soundtrack and expanded commentary for the background characters to their 2011 magnum opus. Full of fucked-up addicts and lost souls on diets of cheeseburgers and 40s who’ve ceased to give a shit, the lives Black Thought narrates (with great assistance from Greg Porn and Dice Raw, among others) cynically satirize the lavish lifestyles wannabes espouse on Top 40 radio with dirty details of inner-city squalor, at every turn reminding that even niggas in Paris have a life every bit as volatile and fragile as the gun-wielding gang kids in southeast Philly. But even in these details there’s a level of sarcasm, as if the album were meant to be an instructional booklet on how to make a hip-hop masterpiece. This is anti-rap if it ever existed: rhythm-centric though not made to move your feet, impassioned lyrics delivered stolidly, the music driven harder by Kamal Gray’s piano than ?uestlove’s drums. Even the title sits poised as the punchline to some dark joke. Q: “When do you shoot your brother?” A: “When he’s neither your blood nor your friend.” Q: “And then what?” A: “And then you shoot your cousin!” A MINUS