How the Roots are trying to get over
Say what you will about Def Jam, but they’ve been very effective lately in getting CDs into stores. Or rather, uploaded to Mediafire. That Wu Massacre album seemed to go from ostensibly good idea to actual retail product in just the time it took for the art department to come up with especially elaborate packaging – though that could be because it consists primarily of garbage leftover from Cuban Linx II and the Wizard of Poetry. Similarly, the Roots’ How I Got Over somehow managed to climb down from the same shelf where they keep Cormega’s the Testament (for lack of a more contemporary example off the top of my head), since the last time I checked the Internets. Tha fuck?
The last time I’d heard from the Roots, it was back when they’d dropped what was supposed to be the lead single from “How I Got Over.” The one where Black Thought sounds like your one acid casualty uncle singing along to Stevie Wonder records at your family reunion’s “meet and greet,” in 1997. Or, um, any year… (Either that or like a broke Bobby Womack.) I do seem to recall it being around the same time they quit touring, to become the house (negro) band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. But because I stopped watching late night TV talk shows when I reached the age of reason, and because I stopped checking for the Roots on a regular basis not too long thereafter, I can’t remember if that was last year, or the year before. Whenever it was, it was a long-ass time ago.
What’s next, a new album by Oran “Juice” Jones?
No but really, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that How I Got Over finally has a release date really is evidence of a new found confidence in the group’s commercial appeal. How else to explain the fact that the album’s new lead single, “Dear God,” features indie rock super group (like Solar is a super producer) Monster’s of Folk, when the last time they tried to launch an album with a single featuring a questionable rock group – “Birthday Girl,” with Fall Out Boy – it was such an epic, miserable failure?
Make no mistake about it – Monsters of Folk are questionable even by white people standards. I say this having once been about as ardent a supporter of Conor Oberst as any reasonable person can be. Which is to say, kinda. Cassadaga was my shit, but he lost me with those two solo albums. It’s like he’s not even trying anymore. And Jim James… Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ! The first couple of My Morning Jacket albums are enjoyable enough, if you’re high on weed, but that most recent one redefines awful. The three songs I’ve heard from it were worse than what I thought was possible, at the time. That song “Highly Suspicious” could be the soundtrack to an anxiety nightmare in which you get picked up on a warrant for a speeding ticket you got in another state back when you were in college, and you end up getting “tampered with.” (Note: I never actually had a dream like this. I just made that up.)
The only thing I can think is that Def Jam must be counting on appealing to a new audience the Roots have cultivated just in the past few years, thanks to their gig in late night. If they can sell enough albums to not just white people (because the Roots’ audience has always been about 97% white), but the kind of white people who would buy a Monsters of Folk album, it won’t matter what the haters over at okayplayer (ironically enough, the Roots’ own website) think. It’s a strategy not unlike Phonte’s strategy with his new career as an R&B singer. You think he’d be giving up Little Brother for the Foreign Exchange, if people actually bought Little Brother albums, rather than downloading them for free and talking shit about them on the Internets?
Trying to become an indie rock group for people who lack taste would seem to be a riskier move than becoming an R&B group, but I guess the Roots figured the latter wasn’t an option for them, at this point. It’s not like they haven’t already tried. They’ve been making cynical appeals to the hoodrat demographic, to diminishing marginal returns, ever since the days of “You Got Me.” You saw how well “How I Got Over” (the song) went over. Perhaps if it had been sung by the guy from Owl City.