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The Roots

How I Got Over

[Def Jam; 2010]

By ; June 30, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

After honing their craft with a nightly gig on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots returned to put all that practice to tape.

The resulting record, How I Got Over, is everything Roots fans have come to expect. There are Black Thought’s nimble, politically aware rhymes, ?uestlove’s ever-reliable drums, and a sustained high level of musical quality throughout.

As usual, The Roots offer up a healthy alternative to today’s radio hip-hop. Even after all these years, it’s still refreshing to hear the group’s organic real-instrument arrangements. If anything, the rhythm section has gotten tighter, aided perhaps by the constant rehearsal time afforded by the band’s gig as Jimmy Fallon’s house band.

You won’t find any 808s here, just lots of Kamal’s piano and ?uestlove’s sturdy drums to anchor it all. The group, as usual, generally eschews samples, sticking to the live band format that has set them so far apart from the majority of their contemporaries.

Longtime Roots collaborator Dice Raw joins Black Thought, The Roots’ sole principal MC, for several tracks including the title cut. As for impressive guest stars, How I Got Over defies expectations – even more so than the Roots-Fall Out Boy collabo from the Rising Down sessions. Perhaps the most star-studded of the album’s 14 tracks is “Dear God 2.0,” a re-imagining of Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God.” Jim James of the Monsters reprises his role on the song’s mournful chorus.

Though Black Thought said before the album’s release that it would feature more positive content than the group’s last two discs, this isn’t exactly a party record. In true Roots character, the rhymes are focused more on self-improvement and perseverance than boasting. Politics also take a backseat, considering this is the first Roots album of the post-Bush era, letting the MCs take on more universal themes of social strife.

“Now or Never” has a chorus/hook, provided by guest singer Phonte, that sounds like it could be a long-lost Curtis Mayfield track, complete with a carpe diem mentality. Contemporary soul star John Legend provides vocals for “The Fire.” The song is vaguely menacing, a minor key jam with an insistent piano riff that sounds like a prelude to a thunderstorm. It has an edge that several of the jazzier tracks lack.

The instrumental groove on “How I Got Over” could easily have been lifted from a Steely Dan track: bongos, keyboard and clean, jazzy guitar buoy a chorus of “Out on the streets/ Where I grew up/ First thing they teach you/ Is not to give a fuck.”

The sonic vibe that threads through How I Got Over is sedate and melancholy, aided by the subdued instrumentation. The beats accurately match the ruminations in the lyrics, but anyone who has seen the group live knows it can rock as well. The record would have benefited from just one track in the vein of “Here I Come,” but the band is content with more mid-tempo material this time around.

At this point in The Roots’ career, a falter would be far more surprising. How I Got Over continues the group’s tradition of quality records even as the band expands its horizons to television and beyond.


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