Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Roots get back to the funky side


CD reviews

THE ROOTS

The Tipping Point

Geffen/Interscope, $13.98

Always expect the unexpected from the Roots. On their genre-expanding 2002 album Phrenology, the Philadelphia hip-hop band flirted with punk, downshifted neo-soul into a drum 'n' bass workout, and imagined their guitar-riffing hip-hop as rock 'n' roll's offspring. The disc was heady, ambitious and undeniably progressive.

Now on The Tipping Point, instead of further tinkering with song structure and metaphor, they've opted to make their sound more accessible. Down to a streamlined, 10-song CD (actually, there are two hidden tracks, one with a hook courtesy of comic Dave Chappelle), the new disc borrows from the past, eyes the future and yet manages to remain some of today's most vital hip-hop.

More than any past release, the disc showcases the nimble rhymes of frontman Black Thought. He displays a socially aware side, dropping a couplet about the Patriot Act on the reggae-tinged "Guns Are Drawn" and societal ills on "Why (What's Goin' On?)."

In an homage to old school rap, Thought races through uncanny imitations of classic Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap verses on "Boom" - but only after he drops his own barrage of boasts on "Break Beat."

However, for all the lyrical fury, the music is as funky as ever. Great sample choices propel two of the disc's best moments - Sly and the Family Stone's "Everybody Is a Star" gets poached on the disc-opening "Star" while "Stay Cool" extends the same beguiling Al Hirt snippet used on De La Soul's 1993 "Ego Trippin' (Part Two)."

Brett Johnson, The Associated Press




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