I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 6

I get it.  I really do.  The Roots Crew have earned the legendary status that often accompanies the name on live performance posters.  Their records have long challenged the hip-hop status quo and pushed the genre to limits once thought impossible.  Few acts in the history of hip-hop music can match their diverse catalog or storied live performances.  I fully recognize the quality of their music and, perhaps more importantly, their immense contributions to the culture. With that acknowledged, I hope I don’t come of as blasphemous by saying that I don’t love their body of work.

I consider myself somewhat of an aficionado of hip-hop music.  As I’ve aged and opened my mind, I have been flooded with material, past and present, that has earned steady burn in my rotation.  As I mentioned in my Best of ’10 of at TITS, however, none of The Roots’ first 11 studio joints took over my deck like other classic records.  Last year’s How I Got Over was dope as hell, and there were singles I loved over the years, but even so, I’d be hard-pressed to recite a complete Black Thought verse off the top.  I’ve often pondered why this is so, and I think I found my answer during my first spin of their new LP Undun, slated to hit stores this Tuesday.

You know how music critics often compliment artists by saying “it’s impossible to confine Record X within standard musical categories?” I guess I’m not down with that shit.  When I want to listen to a hip-hop record, I’m not really looking for a one-minute plus ambient introduction.  Nor am I looking to hear four back-to-back free-jazz/classical inspired instrumental suites to shut it down.  Both of the aforementioned features can be found on Undun, an ambitious concept album that lays out the trials and tribulations of the fictional Redford Stephens.

It’s not saying that there isn’t good hip-hop here: “Make My” with Big K.R.I.T. & Dice Raw, “On Time” featuring Phonte & Dice Raw, and “Kool On” with Greg Porn & Truck North – tracks three, four, and five respectively – all get things going in a direction I can ride with. But as the album progresses, the risks become more significant and before I know it, I’m reaching for the “skip” button.  As I have stated before, I’m by no means a traditionalist, but I do believe that it generally works for artists to stay in their particular lane.  While ?uesto‘s afro and Thought have earned a lane wide enough to comfortably accommodate a double-wide trailer load, there are too many occasions on this record where I’m looking for the next exit ramp.  

Perhaps Undun is just mood music and I haven’t yet been in the right mood. Perhaps it’s suited for a mental space I rarely occupy.  One thing I’m certain on, though, is that it hasn’t been for me thus far.  If you’re looking for high praise of the record, there is no shortage of it out there in early reviews.  But I’m certainly in no hurry to label the record a classic on the strength of reputation alone.

Due to a lack of inspiring releases this week, I’d like to hop in the Delorean and go back to the future for a minute: Curren$y’s Jet Life crew touched down with the Jet World Order compilation last week, and though it flew under my radar prior to Tuesday’s release date, it’s locked in position in my playlist for the foreseeable future.  There are few rappers in the game who can match Spitta’s productivity and consistency in 2011:  Covert Coupe with The Alchemist, Muscle Car ChroniclesWeekend at Burnie’sVerde Terrace, and Return to the Winner’s CircleJet World Order makes it six albums or official mixtapes bearing both Curren$y’s name and a 2011 trademark.  So really, it’s hard to blame him for taking a back seat on this latest project, one which acts more as a showcase of the other young emcee’s that have been afforded a place on the Jet Life roster.  Two lesser-known Jets, Young Roddy and Trademark Da Skydiver, appear on each of the project’s 13 cuts.  Fucked up rap aliases aside, both dudes regularly show promise on the mic: buttery smooth, wordplay-heavy weed raps, not so different in form from their label’s head honcho.  Clearly, though, neither young’n really has the chops to pilot a project for dolo, and thankfully the the rest of the Jet Life squad make timely appearances to avoid any lapses in momentum.  After running anchor on the album’s synthed-out opener “Excellent” and the heavy claps of “Exhale,” Spitta reappears for the last of his three features and once again plays Asafa Powell on the project’s unofficial single “1st Place.”  The Show Off-produced single is an obvious highlight of the album, marking the arrival of the newest (and perhaps prized) Jet Life signee, Sir Michael Rocks of The Cool Kids.  Fresh off the success of his Premier Politics mixtape, Mikey’s plush wordplay proves that the Jets are anything but a one man team: “I’d still pop Rihanna, I cannot front. Barbecuing, putting vodka in the fruit punch.  So you better watch her or she mine, man; Ain’t no ring on her finger like LeBron hand.”

Finding an unenjoyable track here is near impossible: while none of the Jet Lifers are likely to ever contend for the lyrical heavyweight title, there is enough variation within the crew to avert monotony.  It’s the assembled production team, however, that really stand up.  Remix experts Cookin’ Soul provide soundscapes for a quarter of the album, though their most impressive contributions are “Paper Habits” and “Nothing Less,” a pair of beats that sound more like Golden Era throwbacks than new age cloud rap. Aside from his skip-worthy contribution on “Blow Up,” Monsta Beatz is another collection of up-and-coming beat makers who shows out, laying production for the aforementioned Curren$y-featured joints “Exhale” and “Excellent.”  

Clearly, Spitta and his crew aren’t out to push any boundaries on Jet World Order.  What you see is what you get: sleepy, spacey production and effortless soliloquies detailing the finer things in life.  If women, whips, watches, and weed aren’t for you, perhaps this won’t find room in your rotation.  For those of you who do, roll one up and get acquainted.  J-E-T-S.

— Noakes

Originally posted December 6, 2011 on theblast-blog.com



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