28 May, 2014@5:23 am
The worst Roots album is still better than roughly 90% of whatever other modern hip-hop records you are listening to. …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, their highly experimental, conceptual, and exceptional eleventh album is far from their worst record, however many may initially see it that way.
The information age – or, scratch that – more appropriately, the consumption era – has largely changed the way we listen to hip-hop albums. Seven albums ago, The Roots warned us that “Hip-Hop records are treated as though they are disposable,” on their fourth LP, Things Fall Apart. This was before technology would allow you to literally move an album to the virtual trash can, and then tweet to your friends how terrible it is in just 140 characters. (Usually less.)
Which is why …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin will really test the patience of the average fast food junkie. Its set up like a stage play, of sorts, complete with symphonic, musical segues to bridge its parts together with dramatic effect. It hardly follows the standard three-16-bar-verses-and-hooks structure, and some tracks don’t feature rapping at all. Some don’t even have the funky drummer drumming! Blasphemy!
Yes, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is a highly pretentious art piece. However, it’s also good. And it is very digestible, clocking in at just over 30 minutes, marking their shortest LP to date. So it doesn’t require large amounts of patience. Like any solid album, it gets better with each consecutive listen, and its theme becomes apparent the more times you hear it.
The album’s loose-knit narrative doesn’t really identify any particular characters, nor does it have a real “story” to it. But the central character(s), represented by each Black Thought, Dice Raw, and Greg Porn live lifestyles popularized by more famous rappers, such as “Get Rich Or Die Trying” or “You Only Live Once”. The characters find themselves living like there is no tomorrow, then wondering what went wrong the morning after. And then repeating that process, over and over again. It’s a brooding, depressing, and all too familiar tale. Yet one woven together with bittersweet symphonies and ultra high definition, visual lyricism, on all fronts.
In a sense, this album is a bit like a sequel (or prequel) to Dice Raw’s own 2013 solo work, Jimmy’s Back, his brilliant conceptual album about the American prison system. Except these characters only find death, not imprisonment. And the most depressing part about …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is that death is the characters’ only salvation. The album closes with “Tomorrow”, which offers a look towards a brighter, new beginning, but only after death has claimed them.
Easily their boldest release to date, The Roots’ …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin speaks the loudest and most directly, with the message that it attempts to get across. Its experimental, stage-show like structure suggests that there could be a future “Live On Broadway” visual element to accompany it, yet many may miss its points in only its audio form. Nevertheless, The Roots continue to defy expectation for the eleventh time (!), consistently releasing a quality product. Get rich or die trying? Nah. Slow and steady wins the race.
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