Rising Down a dark political journey for The Roots

By Gus Bode

The Roots: “Rising Down”

Release date: April 29, 2008

Def Jam



Rating: 4/5

It’s hard to beat The Roots when it comes to serious, straightforward hip-hop. Much like the tone of 2006’s “Game Theory,” the Philadelphia group’s 10th studio album follows the same disposition.

“Rising Down” is full of punchy sound beats, fantastic lyrics and several guest emcees – a complete release that exposes problems from media stereotypes and racism to the war on drugs.

Unlike their last album, “Rising Down” is considerably darker – minus the poppy “Birthday Girl,” featuring Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, which was left out of the U.S. release. It isn’t hard to get into “Rising Down,” but it’s harder to have a good time while contemplating such deep and dark lyricism.

The first half of the album is considerably different from the second, more focused on the lyricism than the novelties. ?uestlove’s drumming is a steady backbone for each song, but he definitely takes up most of the work keeping the music going as much as the emcees rhymes, much more so than additional electronics – some synth and scratching on “Get Busy,” some deep, brassy bass on “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction).”

On the title track, Mos Def and Styles P tear into the government fighting the war on drugs in the street while prescription companies are legally sedating society, among tackling global warming and rampage shootings.


“Look at technology/ They call it downloading, I call it downsizing/ Somebody follow me/ Does a computer chip have an astrology/ And when it f—- up can it give you an apology?” is just one of the arguments Styles P presents in the title track.

The angst-ridden, fed up tone follows through the whole album, keeping it in a somber, morose and serious tone. After all, there’s no reason not to be: The Roots find flaws and expose them accordingly, never attempting to make light of something that others shove off daily.

After “Becoming Unwritten,” a spacey, sort of interlude track, “Rising Down” gets a little more musical and mellow, with more instrumental sound, synth, bass and even vocals.

The guitar throughout “Criminal” is soothing even if the lyrics exposing racial injustice aren’t. The synth and lyrics of “I Can’t Help It” are intricately dark with a repetitive chorus and heavily distorted beat. Mercedes Martinez adds a little R’B soul to the short “Unwritten.”

“Rising Down” is a true experience, from bare boned hip-hop to more rhythmic, musically-sound tracks, and even a few impressive, fast-flowing freestyle raps (“@ 15”). The album fails to surpass “Game Theory” when it comes to pure enjoyment, but its sense of urgency is not to be ignored.

Reporter Julie Engler can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275 or [email protected].