THANK YOU DEF JAM. This commendation is simply for getting The Roots off of The Tipping Point,” as aptly named an album as I’ve ever seen. It was an okay record (no pun intended) by hip-hop standards but far short of what you’d expect from the architects of classics like “Illadelph Halflife” and “Things Fall Apart.” In fact other than “The Tipping Point” there’s really not a record in their entire catalogue not worth listening to a hundred times or more – the last joint though was just MEH. It certainly wasn’t a shock to see them drop two compilations albums called “Volume One” and “Volume Two” last year. They are great additions to a library of Roots albums, but they also seem calculated to fulfill a contract with Geffen that says “You owe us X amount of albums before you’re through here.” Contract fulfilled they can move to a happier home with a label that understands hip-hop music and culture. It may be just a coincidence, but calling the lead single “Don’t Feel Right” almost feels like a potshot at their former unhappy home. For Black Thought it’s certainly a chance to exercise his frustrations over their trademark organic production and ?uestlove’s snappy drums:

“Yo, in the land of the unseen hand that holds trouble
Theorize your game, it’s difficult to roll a double
The struggle ain’t right up in your face, it’s more subtle
But it’s still comin across like the bridge and tunnel vision
I try to school these bucks, but they don’t wanna listen
That’s the reason the system makin its paper from the prison
And that’s the reason we livin where they don’t wanna visit
Where the dope slangin keep swayin like Sonny Liston
The money missin and there’s mouths to feed
Get the brain kickin thinkin of a thousand things
Remember back in the days, when the kitchen had eggs
And pancakes, chicken and greens and Kool Aid
When the ‘fridgerator naked then the cupboard is bare
People got to strip naked, stick ’em up in the air
Wasn’t lies when they told you wasn’t nuttin to fear
Somethin don’t feel right out here, knahmsayin?”

That’s a bitter sentiment for The Roots to come back on, but the singing of Maimouna Youssef on the hook helps soften the blow. Regardless the change in Black Thought is evident – he’s motivated to spit and coming with hard shit. Production and construction should carry this single to the top, and the same can be said for the rest of “Game Theory” as well. There are plenty of unexpected surprises to be found within this album too. The one that probably caught me off guard the most was the return of oft-absent member Malik B on several tracks, like the heavy beats of “In the Music.” It’s good to see he hasn’t lost his touch:

“It’s kinda ill, how we grip these bitches in the Bonneville
It’s kind of a thrill, my mind it will spill, my nine it will kill
Of course bro, like crossbow
I bring the force though, hittin your guts, splittin your torso
It’s colder than the North Pole, livin unlawful
I’m givin you a jawful of somethin awful
Yo, my theoretic is leaded but come and set it
The shit bang and leave you diabetic, for paramedics
I spit flames…”

“Take it There” starts out like a straight throwback to “The Lesson” but then the beatboxing meets with melody and goes to a new level as Thought raps that “I can feel somethin close, we on the verge.” The track “Baby” is definitely on the verge of being a crossover joint, as the drum-clap-AH beat and semi-sung delivery by Thought all merge with the chorus vocals of John-John from Nouveau Riche and create a potent combination. “Long Time” is over-the-top and beautifully so – a “posse all in” cut featuring Bunny Sigler and Peedi Peedi with a fat guitar ‘n bass rock’n’roll attitude. What makes The Roots great on “Game Theory” is what has always made them great – Black Thought’s rap. That needs a little more explanation though – Thought would be a great on the strength of gifted rhyme writing alone, but he always seems to write the right note for the musical backdrop of the track and even change up the way he spits the verbals to make it match better. The soft jazzy groove of “Clock With No Hands” featuring Mercedes Martinez of the Jazzyfatnastees is a perfect example:

“Precious time is money that I ain’t got to mess about
Need it from the horse’s mouth or from an eyewitness account
Lessons with my back to the wall, scopin my session out
Stay a little edgy at times, but I ain’t stressin ’bout
haters don’t know shit about me, they the ones that talk shit
Those who love me said it out so I ain’t so I ain’t got to force quit
Cause I’m doin better now don’t mean I never lost shit
I was married to a state of mind and I divorced it
Mayne, I’m from where brothers movin product from the porches
People lockin they doors, clutchin to they crosses
The block hot with the law, it ain’t too many choices
So what I do is for y’all, cause ain’t too many voices left”

There are some haunting moments on “Game Theory” too. The album opens with a “Dillatastic Vol Won(derful)” beat that’s short but sweet, but it’s even deeper hearing Black Thought speak upon how great Jay Dee was on a saved voicemail that opens “Can’t Stop This.” Hearing him rap over that funky-ass J Dilla beat that immediately follows is almost too much. It’s a moving tribute to the late great musical kingpin where Thought confesses “the only thing I ever really loved in my life/was a mic” while “some of my niggaz fell in love with MP’s.” This and a song called “Atonement” close out the album, but to be totally blunt The Roots have nothing to atone for here. ?uestlove, Black Thought, Leonard Hubbard, Malik B and the rest of the Legendary Roots Crew have come back again to the dopeness we expected from them all along and “Game Theory” does not dissapoint. Perhaps there’s one more apt thing to be found in that title – if there’s a theory to understanding the music industry game, The Roots clearly have the answer.

The Roots :: Game Theory
9Overall Score