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The Roots

Undun (Def Jam)

Reviewed by Chase Hoffberger, Fri., Dec. 30, 2011

Phases & Stages

The Roots

Undun (Def Jam)

Late-night TV's most famous house band rarely goes short on practice time these days, but what gets lost between Justin Timberlake guest spots and remakes of Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" is "Thought @ Work." There's just not enough Black Thought on Jimmy Fallon. Undun, the Roots' 11th album and first to be fully made with the Philadelphia crew holding post at NBC, is not only their most musically fluid since 1999's Things Fall Apart; lyrically, it's their most concise. Using the postmortem consciousness of fictional gangster Redford Stephens as a theme, Black Thought leads the Roots' always stout feature MCs (Dice Raw, Truck North, and Greg Porn, plus Big KRIT's emphatic Southern eulogy on "Make My") through 30 minutes of top-class storytelling, traversing greed ("One Time"), pain ("Lighthouse"), and the hustle ("Kool On"), all of which Thought personifies with razor precision. Best is his deliberate slip on "I Remember" ("Troy, Mark, and little what's-his-name"), a sly quip that would make John Updike smirk. "Kool On" and "The OtherSide" reinforce what's long been evident: The Roots are the best hip-hop band today and ever, no questions asked, and Undun is Black Thought's greatest mark.

****

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