29 September, 2010@4:19 pm
It’s no surprise that like minded individuals, John Legend and The Roots would eventually find each other collaborating on some kind of project together. Never did we expect this, however, a full length album of funk/soul covers of the 60′s and 70′s. The idea behind Wake Up was to capture the spirit of the Black community that was prevalent in those years, and apply it today’s generation as a whole.
While Legend’s own material is held in the highest regard by itself, the music on Wake Up finds him leaving his seducer’s suit hung up, as the songs here have a much broader message. It begins with “Hard Times”, a cover of the Baby Huey & The Baby Sitters track, which will immediately resonate with hip-hop heads thanks to it’s familiar horn section as sampled by Diamond D and Ghostface Killah. As an added bonus, Black Thought surprises the listener with his own rendition of the song’s message, as the band “live loops” the breakdown for his rhymes. They employ this tactic once again later on in the album on “Our Generation”, the Ernie Hines classic used for Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “Straighten It Out”, nabbing bonus rhymes from C.L. himself. The addition of guest rappers is not needed, but makes things a bit more fun, also adding Black Thought to “Little Ghetto Boy” (Dr. Dre wasn’t available?) and Common on “Wake Up Everybody”.
While this arguably gimmicky approach to selling the idea of this album to the more stubborn hip-hop heads works, Legend’s buttery voice is the true highlight of this record. His twelve minute rendition of Bill Withers’ Vietnam-aftermath track “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” carries eerie relevance to today’s post-Iraq America, as Legend pours his heart out on both vocals and the keys. The only seemingly out of place cover here is that of reggae band Prince Lincoln Thompson and the Royal Rasses’ “Humanity”. Same era, but a completely different sound than the rest of the record. The original track, “Shine”, caps things off; a poignant addition taken from the Waiting For “Superman” soundtrack.
Both The Roots and John Legend have reached a point in their careers where embarking on an offshoot project like this will demand respect, rather than being looked at with cocked eyebrows. Summing it all up, the experiment that is “Wake Up!” works beautifully, providing a stark contrast to anything else out there in modern R&B music today.
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