It’s always amusing when bringing up hip-hop legends The Roots and seeing how many people know them primarily for being the backing band on Jimmy Fallon’s late night TV shows. Considering their impact on hip-hop, especially their impact on jazz-rap and similar sub-genres which they played a huge part in pioneering and popularising, it seems that The Roots’ entire catalogue may be a little underrated by many hip-hop fans today. Despite this, their most popular album Things Fall Apart is still iconic.
…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is one of the most recent albums by The Roots and it is one that sees them change their style quite drastically; even if they keep the foundations of their sound recognisable. It’s a strange, uncomfortable and often surreal record to listen to, seeming to create the sound of an apocalypse with strangely pitched samples and harsh drums and bass.
With 11 tracks at only 33 minutes length overall, the track lengths are also pretty odd. The record has 3 tracks which are performed by other people and act like extended samples, such as the fourth track ‘The Devil’ by Mary Lou Williams which effectively acts as an interlude but is seriously chilling in the context of the surrounding songs.
It’s a disorienting listen, ranging in styles and mood much more than any other Roots project – as typically they veer closer to concept records – that works so brilliantly due to the strangeness of the beats and the brutality of the lyrics. These are seriously daring songs coming from hip-hop, such as the third track and lead single ‘When the People Cheer’ which sees frontman Black Thought put himself in the shoes of a “sex addicted introvert” exploring the darker side to the traditional hip-hop persona (or more of a stereotype now due to changes in hip-hop culture); one of hedonism and self indulgence.
What really brings the record together is the final three tracks, which have longer runtimes and feature other artists all exploring their own corner of darkness in the created world. ‘The Dark (Trinity)’ uses incredible sounding piano and a minimal drumbeat to create a pitch black atmosphere which Black Thought and the featured artists meet with their verses detailing addiction, anxiety and crippling fear of death. It’s confrontationally grim music, such as when Dice Raw explains in his verse a story of how he sold crack to get money to impress a woman and “now all I want from her’s an abortion”. It’s scathingly ugly, appropriately backed by this masterful, distorted beat.
Thankfully, the final track ‘Tomorrow’ does close the record on a note of optimism, but the intensity of the music that precedes it can’t be forgotten. It’s a unique, exceptional record – one that isn’t only overlooked within the catalogue of The Roots, but also massively overlooked by hip-hop and music fans in general. It’s bleak brilliance – coarse music that sandpapers a piece of your soul as it passes through your ears.
…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is available to listen to via Def Jam Recordings. Listen to the lead single, ‘When The People Cheer’ below: