It’s been a long time—nearly a quarter century, in fact—since two students at Philadelphia School for Creative and Performing Arts, Ahmir Thompson and Tariq Trotter, formed a hip hop ensemble that would come to be known as the Square Roots. Today we know those two students as ?uestlove and Black Thought, and their extended musical family as The Legendary Roots Crew.
Always one of hip-hop’s hardest working outfits, The Roots can now be seen each and every weeknight on NBC as the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, backing all sorts of diverse and eclectic visiting artists. Not that the daily routine and steady money of their TV gig has caused the band to grow complacent—not by a long-shot. Since they started at Fallon in March 2009, their playing sounds tighter, their original recordings more focused than ever.
While each track stands on its own, there’s no way to make sense of this reverse narrative arc unless you start at the beginning—which is to say, the end.
The Roots will release their 13th studio album, Undun, on Def Jam December 6. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful work of art, as ambitious and cohesive as a late Beatles album, but 100% grounded in hip-hop. When Questlove says that Undun should be “experienced as a continuous work” he’s not being pretentious—just helpful. “We want to tell stories that work within the album format,” he expained, “and we want the stories to be nuanced and useful to people.” While each track stands on its own, there’s no way to make sense of this reverse narrative arc unless you start at the beginning—which is to say, the end.
Earlier this month, The Roots longtime manager Rich Nichols invited a select group of journalists to MSR Studios in midtown Manhattan for a preview of this amazing album. After demolishing a few trays of chicken and veggie platters, we moved into the recording studio where we listened to nine of the album’s ten tracks before watching as Questlove took his place behind the traps to lay down the 10th and final track. As album listenings go, this one was simply unforgettable. Click through to hear Complex’s first impressions.
Written by Rob Kenner (@boomshots)