"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Tale Of Three Videos: Not A Blogger Previews The Roots’ Rising Down

Pound for pound, The Roots, may in fact be, the one of the most well “liked” group in all of music. Pretty much everybody in the world “likes” the Roots. You might hear people say: “The Roots? Yeah, I like that one song they did a while back. Yeah, they’re cool...” or “Oh, yeah I like them. I hear their pretty great live.” This, of course, is strange because the Roots have approximately 0.2 hit records to their credit. Now when I say that people “like” the Roots that does not predicate that people “love” or even consider themselves really “fans” of the group. It just suggests that when people discuss their musical tastes, The Roots often get a perfunctory little shout-out as if to broaden their musical credibility. They are the rap group for people who don’t like rap groups but don’t want to seem as if they are prejudiced against black people. After all, they play instruments, they don’t rap about guns, money or hoes and they generally seem kind of safe. Obviously, they aren’t like those gangster rappers and their baggy clothes. They wear corduroy dinner jackets and polo shirts, for god’s sake!!!

All of this goodwill has led to a ton of sold out shows at college campuses across the Midwest but has led to little to no albums sales. Now part of this, of course, is because The Roots’ albums pale in comparison to their live shows. The Roots are a band much like (Warning: Let me preface this before I say this. I don’t like either one of these bands and would be rather tortured like Mel Gibson in Braveheart before I actually attended a show of either one of these bands. The Roots are way better than both of these bands, by the way. Natch.) Phish and the Dave Matthews Band where the energy and atmosphere of the band and the crow trumps anything that is in the group's catalogue. What makes the Roots great doesn't necessarily translate that well to their records. Not to say that the Roots don’t have their share of good material but often their work suffers on wax from the lack of panache that can be found when they perform it live. Sorry, Root heads but it’s true.

Much like Memphis Bleek (except not at all), the Roots seemingly always seem to be perennially one hit away from stardom but it just never happens for them. For years, music aficionados have been predicting their next album would be the one that turns them into the next big band but it just has never happened for them. It was supposed to happen after Things Fall Apart dropped and they had that song with Erykah Badu and Eve but it didn’t happen. Phrenology was supposed to be their big breakthrough record but outside a couple of white college kids in cargo shorts, nobody bought the record. Jay-Z even signed them to Def Jam to be the flagship artist on his new alternative rap imprint, Def Jam Left, but all that proved was that Jay-Z can’t market anybody outside of himself, once again. (Game Theory was really dope, by the way.) The Roots keep getting their shot and they can’t quite find the mark each and everytime, stardom keeps calling.

So here we are today and the impending release of The Roots’ new album, Rising Down, is just around the corner and the Roots have been doing their damnedest to promote this album (because Jay-Z sure the hell won’t) going as far to releasing three new videos for the song. Glorious hater that I am, I took it upon myself to review these new songs and offer my opinion (which as usual should be interpreted as the facts) on each of these new videos and then offer my opinion on whether the new Roots album will be a worth a flying...

75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)

Black Thought has always been an emcee’s emcee as he is at his best when he’s getting on the mic and spitting and this song is absolutely tailored for Thought to crush. It’s basically just Thought freestyling for 75 bars (hence the name) over the brooding low rumble of a synthesizer line and drums of the beat. It’s personally right up my alley. I love this type of shit. The video directed by the infamous Rik Cordero has this ’70s Grindhouse exploitation vibe going to it. Cordero has made a name for himself recently with his cheap, low budget a-bunch-of-dudes-standing-on-the-corner-rhyming-directly-into-the-camera aesthetic and this video maintains the dark, low budget grit while drastically improving on production values. The story kind of settles around Black Thought and ?uestlove kidnapping some white dude (presumably the dude at Def Jam in charge of promoting their last album. Personally, I would have tortured Jay-Z but I’m a hater like that) and taking him to a warehouse where they beat the shit out of him, tie him up, and pour gasoline on him. The video cuts to black before Thought can toss the lit match onto his terrified and prone body. That would have been awesome. Still dope song, dope video. 1 for 1.

Get Busy Feat. Dice Raw, Peedi Crakk & DJ Jazzy Jeff

The second video released “Get Busy” is once again directed by men in puffy coats and wool caps enthusiast, Rik Cordero, and the song and the video are the best of the bunch. “Get Busy” employs the same buzzing synths that “75 Bars” does to great effect and it suggests that “Rising Down” will be the Roots darkest album yet. Thought, Dice Raw, and Peedi Peedi all go in and provide some dark and memorable verses, Peedi and Dice especially but what makes this song especially dope is the magic hands of DJ Jazzy Jeff. Jeff who continues to cement his reputation as the best DJ on the planet destroys his cuts on the record and brings the song to a chaotic frenzy. But what I like most about it is the video. Cordero uses a grainy, 16 mm stock (or something like it created digitally) and distorted wide-angle lens to transform the office space into the video into an almost surreal dream world. It’s visually, pretty arresting. What also struck me is the band’s performance in the video which seems almost robotic. I haven’t been a fan of Cordero’s work lately as I though Dan The Man (of Prodigy fame) destroys him on the low-budget aesthetic but Cordero’s work on these Roots videos really impress me.

Birthday Girl Feat. Patrick Stump Of Fall Out Boy (Unofficial Video)

Much has been made of how awful “Birthday Girl” is since it’s release earlier this week on the internet, and I’m really not gonna argue with it. “Birthday Girl” doesn’t sound like a Roots record…like at all. It doesn’t even really sound like a Fall Out Boy record either. Instead, it sounds like what John Mayer would do if given the chance to make a hip hop song that ruined somebody else’s reputation as the worst artist working not named John Groban. The song is clearly meant to be a pandering rap/sensitive-white-guy-with-a-guitar crossover and it’s really just bad. Patrick Stump of the worst band in the world, Fall Out Boy, proving once and for all, rappers have awful taste in “rock” music, provides the hook. However, the “unofficial” viral video that was released as promo for this song, is actually what interests me about this song. Mostly because it’s just weird. Utterly weird. The video as presented as if it were a homemade fan video created in tribute to the song but I can’t imagine that Fall0utG1rl4ever was that enraptured by a motherfucking Roots song the first time she heard that she went out and directed a slickly produced viral video that night. Call me a skeptic but whatever. Even so the video is damn weird on its own, it centers around the 18th birthday of some random lesbian (or at least, bi-curious) white chick as she navigates her way around her surprise birthday party. The party seems to be populated by people who would avoid rap music if given a choice and it’s being thrown by this busted but oddly estastic 30 year old woman with a giant giraffe neck and a fetish for younger guys who look they skateboard and listen to Bright Eyes. It’s all very disorienting. I’m not sure why the hell this is going to appeal to the Okayplayer set so I guess they are going after 13 year old white chicks with no taste. I’m kind of disturbed by this but it’s oddly watchable in a trainwreck sense. The girl IS kind of cute even if she is supposedly underage. [Insert Mandatory R. Kelly Joke Here.]

Final Thoughts:

Outside of the utter tragedy that is “Birthday Girl,” I’m kind of looking forward to Rising Down. Although, I’m curious the direction, the Roots are going. “75 Bars” and “Get Busy” have this dark, brooding buzzed out synth sound that could actually be damn near awesome if the entire album sounds like that but I can’t imagine how a song like “Birthday Girl” is gonna fit on an album like that. It seems like Def Jam is forcing this on the Roots whether they like it or not. The presence of the song alone means that Def Jam could be subtly sabotaging the Roots in order for them to appeal to a “broader” (i.e. people with no taste) audience much like they did to Method Man when he released Tical 0 a few years back. I don’t like that idea much of all. Stay away, Def Jam, stay away!


Trey Stone said...

personally, those first two songs aren't even really my type of shit ("Get Busy" in particular is just grating) but do you think more promotion really would've made a huge difference on their last album? i'm not really familiar with it but i wasn't under the impression that there was a potential hit single there or anything. i dunno how much promotion can do when the music's only appealing to a niche audience

DocZeus said...

No, I don't think the last Roots album was really going to go platinum even if Def Jam had even bothered to market it. It's more of the general principle of the Jay-Z adminstration of Def Jam. Why bother to sign the Roots if you are gonna treat them like they are LL Cool J...or Method Man... or Redman... or Beanie... or Ghostface... or basically anybody on Def Jam not named Jay-Z. It seems like its' a collosal waste of everybody's time. I think the criticism that Jay-Z is a selfish egotist that only cares about his musical legacy is pretty spot-on.

Pretty much anybody who has ever worked with the guy has leveled it at him. They can't be ALL jealous bitter haters.

Zilla Rocca said...

I don't blame Jay-Z for "Game Theory" not doing numbers. It was probably the most un-commercial album released on Def Jam that year. The "singles" had ZERO chance of appealing to anyone not already a long-time Roots fan. And it was an excellent, cohesive album dealing with subjects 80% of major label urban albums never deal with. To quote Jack Black, it was "sad bastard" music but I still loved it.

It all comes down to songs, people. I love Ghostface and he's my favorite MC of all time, but he's never written something as catchy as "Roc Boys" as a Def Jam artist. Freeway made a great album, but nothing on there was as indelible as "What We Do." "Red Gone Wild" was good, but there was no undeniable single on there. Same with Meth.

In this market place, singles sell the artist. It's almost like the 50s and 60s where the biggest artists had the biggest 45s, not LPs.

padraig said...

I don't doubt for a minute that Jay-Z is a "selfish egotist", but wouldn't that description apply to artists? and, not that I know, a very high % of great, prolific but I seriously doubt his egotism is so overwhelming that he deliberately neglects marketing artists he's signed. it's much more likely that he just sucks at running a label, the way dudes like isiah, larry bird & MJ suck at running NBA teams. count me in with those who doubt promotion would've helped "game theory" sell, as the Roots have pretty much painted themselves into a corner at this point, albeit a fairly large and comfortable one.

co-sign on the primacy of the single, which isn't going to change anytime soon. one thing, though - I think it's also encouraging a lot of artists to craft quality lps/mixtapes/etc. b/c they know there's very little chance of lucking into gold or platinum sales and they're just better off delivering what their core audience wants. i look at "birthday girl" in that context - sure, it's a sellout but if doing that one crap song lets them put out an album full of stuff as great and seemingly uncommercial as "get busy" then it will be a smart trade-off.

one last thing - I know they were going for max commerciality here and that it's a cliche by now, but rappers continue to astound me with their abysmal taste in guitar-based music. i wonder if it makes ?uestlove cringe inside, I mean isn't dude a hardcore record collector? if anyone involved in hip hop should know better...