ALBUM REVIEW – “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” by The Roots

These days they may be better known as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, but from back in the early 90s The Roots have been a hugely influential group within hip-hop, even inspiring Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame. A large band featuring numerous instrumentalists, they’ve always held a gift for crafting impressive soundscapes, often putting more focus on the music itself than the vocals in an inversion of the typical rap approach. Already one of the most consistent groups in any genre, 2011’s concept record Undun saw them move in a darker direction that they’ve continued to pursue on the chillingly titled …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, their 11th opus.

Where its predecessor followed the narrative of one fictional character, this album takes on a broader perspective in an analysis of violence within both hip-hop and American society. Lofty subject matter then, but from the get-go it’s clear that the band won’t flinch from moving into unsettling territory. The concept is conveyed as much through the music as it is the lyrics, a good portion of the record simply unnerving in its dark take on neo-soul and alternative hip-hop. The largely sung ‘Never’ has a twisted vibe that continues into the more conventional ‘When the People Cheer’, and by the time the sinister chanting of ‘The Devil’ arrives the mood has been made clear.

Lyrically too, this is a stark collection. ‘Understand’ has the most obvious hook of the record, but its verses cut apart the soullessness of modern society, a theme further explored on the pop culture dissecting ‘The Dark (Trinity)’. Sung melodies, though, are typically aimed at adding to the intense mood rather than being catchy, as is obvious on ‘The Coming’. This is very much an album album, in that many of the songs only work within the context of the whole and the flow of the piece is utterly perfect. Even the optimistic tone of closer ‘Tomorrow’ (complete with whistling) has a bittersweet edge that wraps things up in a perfect package.

An absolute thematic tour-de-force, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is a gorgeous package of haunting piano refrains, smooth neo-soul inflections and emotionally charged lyrical soundbites. If anything the only real flaw is that it feels shorter than it should, several songs ending before they feel like they’ve peaked. An album as deep and rich as this one could easily have been ten minutes longer without wearing thin, but when the main problem with an album is that there isn’t enough of it, you know you’re on to something good. The Roots continue to push the boundaries of hip-hop with this nightmarish journey into a harsh world that’s all too real. It’s both astonishingly ugly and beautiful at the same time, and another killer record to add to the discography.

Rating: 8/10

[Michael Bird]

‘When The People Cheer’

The Roots

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