The Illa-5ifth Dynasty has until now made a name for itself as hip-hop's best kept secret. Combining talented live musicians and gifted lyrical orators into a tightly woven fabric, The Roots have released three straight albums of underground classics most fans of top notch hip-hop would be embarassed to not have in their collection, Discman, Walkman, or all of the blessed above.
The album's title though (inspired by the novel of the same name from Chinua Achebe) may in a sense be foreboding. On the threshold of achievining commercial success, they may alienate their fans by suddenly becoming a household name - rap music's ultimate irony. One which neither this group or this album is deserving of. Even though it is by far not the best compilation of work this band has released, it is also by far and above most of the work of it's contemporaries. Black Thought's oratorical display alone makes the purchase price seem an afterthought.
Spliff wizard kid, who is it?/ Fifth Dinosaur Ghetto, beat detonator/ Apex my level, NEXT, my complex patterns of speech/ is like, I mastered the art/ of makin you snap the necks/ And Chase Manhattan endorse my mic checks -> "Ain't Sayin' Nothing New"
Add in the harsh (and occasionally unpalettable) realism tactics of Malik B and the energetic (and totally underrated) stylings of Dice Raw and you have the makings of poetic bliss. Combined with the musical stylings of ?uestlove, Leonard Hubbard and their rotating band of vocal gypsys such as Rahzel and Scratch, this match is hard to best. The Roots only truly fail by not exceeding their own expectations. It's hard to live up to pre-release hype that called this album "groundbreaking", "innovative", "trendsetting" and "1999's best LP". It's none of these. It's basically more of the same we've come to expect from The Roots; and that's not revolutionary, that's evolutionary. The natural progression of a hip-hop band.
Yo, me and Kamal and Leanord Hubbard, ?uestlove and Malik/ We go back to dollar holdings and Tahitian Treat/ Or like toast in the oven with government cheese bubblin/ Me and Dante like Marvin, The Troublemen -> "Double Trouble"
For the ultimate hip-hop audio groove, be sure to stop on a dime for tracks like "The Next Movement" with it's swinging funk, Malik's solo "The Spark" for eerie vocal harmonization, and the debut single "You Got Me" with the crooning chorus provided by Ms. Erykah Badu. But don't expect a whole album full of _You Got Me_'s or you will wind up dissapointed. If you crave good hip-hop from a great band, you won't be.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 10, 1999