CD Review: The Roots

How I Got Over (Def Jam)

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How I Got Over is the Roots’ healthiest album in years, funded not just monetarily but mentally by a steady day job as Jimmy Fallon’s late-night TV band. Still, angst and intensity do wonders in hip-hop, so it’s no surprise that the Roots made some of their best albums under tough conditions. The noisy synths of Rising Down, hardcore punk homages on Phrenology, and inventively cut beats that earmarked Game Theory are nowhere to be found on How I Got Over, which stakes its game on two indie-folk cameos (Jim James and Joanna Newsom are both sampled here). The album’s overall sound is spare too, which is groovy in the languid title tune’s soulful hook but not quite enough elsewhere. Since most hip-hop is minimalist even when it’s made by an ensemble, the Roots occasionally sound like they’re hitting the wrong notes on How I Got Over. The piano plinks that lead opener “Walk Alone” into the mournful “Dear God 2.0” don’t thud like the piano plinks of the past. And for that matter, their remake of Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God” hardly justifies its existence the way the earth-shattering “The Seed 2.0” did. Within all the quiet atmospherics, a pretty moment will assert itself (like the moaning old soul sample in “Doin’ It Again”), but to paraphrase collaborator John Legend, these guys need the fire back inside them. — Dan Weiss

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