the roots how i got over
  • THURSDAY, JULY 01, 2010

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"Peace of Light", the opening track on the album featuring Dirty Projectors' army of female vocalists, sets the tone for the rest of the album fairly well: How I Got Over is a subdued, restrained effort colored by shades of blue and gray. And, though it's a notable change of pace from previous Roots records, the aesthetic suits them nicely...for a while.

The opening two tracks &mdash "Walk Alone" and the Monsters of Folk-sampling "Dear God 2.0" &mdash are some of the best songs on the album but reveal some of its strengths and flaws in equal measure. The first problem, especially notable on "Walk Alone", is that Black Thought, the lead MC/singer of the Roots, often has the weakest verse on his own songs. Truck North, one of two guests featured on "Walk Alone", raps: "Allured by the lust, something money can't cure/The Devil want me as is, but God, he want more". The best Black Thought can come up with is "I go above and beyond, the duty called, truly y'all/Even though they kind of blew me off like a booty call". It's a good line, but it isn't great and, too often, The Roots seem stuck in a holding pattern for most of Over's duration.

But this restraint does work a lot of the time. It's contemplative instead of angry, thoughtful even when its declarative. While some of the lyrics can feel a little preachy or one-note (the streets are hard, life is hard &mdash you gotta rise above), you can hear Black Thought working through modern issues in interesting ways. "Got immunized for both flus/I'm stll sick" he says in "Radio Daze"; it's a boast in typical hip-hop fashion but also a questioning of government, of the media hype cycle, of the climate of fear we still live in. For every interesting lyrical moment, however, you have a clunker like the Dice Raw crooned chorus of the title track ("that type of thinking can't get you nowhere/soooomeonnnnee hassss toooo caaaaaare!).

So what's the verdict? How I Got Over is jazzy, low-key, and confident. Even when there's a lyrical or musical misstep, it sounds purposeful. Unfortunately, The Roots settled for being good this time out instead of making the extra effort to be great &mdash this is the record they wanted to make, but in the end, it might not be the one you wanted to hear. -ben krusling

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