Music

The Roots: How I Got Over

How do these guys celebrate their cushy late night gig? By delivering a resilient and timely, and ultimately brilliant record about making it through hard times.


The Roots

How I Got Over

US Release: 2010-06-22
Label: Def Jam
UK Release: 2010-06-21
Artist Website
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

Things seem pretty sweet for the Roots right now. They've got that regular gig as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which not only helps pay the bills -- records don't help with that much anymore, I'm told -- but also lets them collaborate with any and all musicians that come through the show's doors. The results have made them easily the most exciting part of a mediocre talk show, and have yielded some surprising and excellent results.

So How I Got Over could very well have been a record about them living the Hollywood life, a laid-back set of songs for the good days. Instead, Black Thought, ?uestlove, and the rest of the Roots give us an album that is anything but relaxed. It's a timely, and honest, record about making it through tough times. Personal doubt, troubled neighborhoods, social problems, the economy, the environment -- you name the issue, it gets mentioned here. But even as the problems mount -- both around us and in these songs -- the Roots never resort to frustrated complaining.

Instead, Black Thought leads the band through a collection that is, if anything, a bracing call to arms. He's not necessarily inviting us to push back against all this with him -- but he is leading by example. His voice is as strong as it always is, and his rhymes hit fast and hard from beginning to end. Early in the record, on "Walk Alone", he claims he'll, "get my Charlie Parker on". And for the rest of the record he does just that. Parker was, and is, a vital musical voice, one that grew out of the anger and frustration of racial inequality but formed into something resilient, strong and undeniable -- listen to any version of "Ah-leu-cha" if you doubt it -- and Black Thought, long a strong and confident voice in his own right, delivers some of the best verses of his career on this record.

So when he rattles off lines like, "Walking like the lost boys of Sierra Leone / The trail of tears what they got me like Cherokee on / 'Tween the ears something I require therapy on, for working to the bone like my name Robert Guillaume," the isolation he casts himself in is honest and hard earned, not self-pitying celebrity whining. All over the record, Black Thought twists the usual hip-hop braggadocio into a more measured celebration of work ethic. His pride shows, but it doesn't completely negate his worry, and he speaks honestly of his confusion in the face of world-size troubles, raising questions like "Why is the world ugly when you made it in Your image?" with a weary rasp to his voice, before bursting back to seething life just a few lines later.

Of course, as brilliant as he is on this record, front to back, Black Thought is hardly alone. ?uestlove and the rest of the band back him up with their typical brand of smooth, funky-as-hell beats. In fact, as usual, the beats are so smooth they might initially come off as boilerplate, but there's actually an amazing subtlety to the sequencing and overall flow of the record. The first half is its own continuous groove. Songs weave together -- we move seamlessly from "Walk Alone" to "Dear God 2.0" to "Radio Daze" and so on. But after the mid-album interlude "DillaTUDE: The Flight of Titus", the lean guitar lines and dusty high hat on "The Day" mark a terse shift in the album's sound. Songs like "Right On" and "Doin' It Again" are separated by snippets of sound or in-studio mumbling, while the rest of the beats -- from the churning, mixed-up vocals that simmer through "The Fire" to bizarre, underwater lazer sounds on "Web 20/20" -- are just too unique to match up with each other. This disconnect actually amps up the album's tension and energy, as if that first half was the uphill struggle, and the rest is the triumphant sound coming down from the summit.

Amidst all this is a string of those much-hyped "indie rock" collaborators, and there may not be a greater testament to the strength and versatility of the Roots' sound than the way these disparate elements mesh perfectly into their songs. The ladies from Dirty Projectors -- Amber Hoffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle -- cast a wordless incantation over the record with opener "A Peace of Light", and it both sets up the moody first half of the record and, in the way the notes open up, hints at the hard-won strength that comes later. The band also somehow makes Joanna Newsom's voice fall smoothly into the hook for "Right On", taken from her early-career track "The Book of Right On". The beat around her voice is big and thumping and actually makes her voice all the more haunting by taking it out of its usual, fey surroundings and giving it more of a pulse.

None of these collaborations work quite as well as "Dear God 2.0", where Jim James sings the hook beautifully. "Dear God" -- originally a Monsters of Folk track -- works much better as a hook here than as a song in its own right, and James makes for a great stand-in for the sped-up soul sample so many hip-hop acts fall back on. As touted as these kinds of collaborations have been, none of them sound all that strange or experimental. They fall right in line with great hooks from the likes of John Legend and great verses from Little Brother's Phonte and a number of strong turns by Dice Raw.

By the time we get to closer "Hustla" -- where Black Thought raps about passing all he's earned on to his kids -- it's clear the Roots have given us another brilliant album with How I Got Over. It's as strong as the last two albums -- Game Theory and Rising Down -- but there's a more unified feel to this album that makes it stand out. It's great to see the Roots gaining success and a more universal respect through their work on Fallon, but it's downright heartening to hear them unwilling to sit back and cruise on this record. "If I said it, I mean it, / If I did it, I need it," Black Thought asserts on "Doin' It Again", the album's best track. And over 40-plus minutes, he and the Roots and every other player here don't give you one second to doubt that sentiment.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.