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.

  • Sha

    Ummmmmm. Dude… What is your point? As far as selling out, no group can claim to hold down the underground as much as the Roots. That’s not only based on the type of albums they’ve put out for years, or the length that they stay on tour, or the fact that Black Thought continues to blast from the mic…. The Roots have earned the right to experiment (although I would say that they have been experimental from the very beginning).
    Ultimately, this is the business of selling records. Nobody said anything when Talib Kweli had Justin Timberlake on his album. Why? Because as much as “Keep it real” is important, so is expanding your base and selling records (if you have children to feed). So I ask again Byron “respect yourself” Crawford… What is your point? Real talk.

  • Sha

    Ummmmmm. Dude… What is your point? As far as selling out, no group can claim to hold down the underground as much as the Roots. That’s not only based on the type of albums they’ve put out for years, or the length that they stay on tour, or the fact that Black Thought continues to blast from the mic…. The Roots have earned the right to experiment (although I would say that they have been experimental from the very beginning).
    Ultimately, this is the business of selling records. Nobody said anything when Talib Kweli had Justin Timberlake on his album. Why? Because as much as “Keep it real” is important, so is expanding your base and selling records (if you have children to feed). So I ask again Byron “respect yourself” Crawford… What is your point? Real talk..

    • The Decatur Dictator

      Sha, maybe his weed carrier wrote it for him, maybe he was to high to put together a meaningful and coherent blog today. We understand Bol, the weekend just left and mondays are always a fog.

    • The Decatur Dictator

      Sha, maybe his weed carrier wrote it for him, maybe he was to high to put together a meaningful and coherent blog today. We understand Bol, the weekend just left and mondays are always a fog….

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  • The Decatur Dictator

    Aye Yo Bol, come back to earth man! What are you saying? Anyway, you digress..the roots are a group that is always looking for an angle to go agaist the mainstream rap machine. They have always been different and this is no surprise, Actaully I applaud them for not going the convenient “ni**a route”. It takes courage to stick to your standards of making good music no matter if you are the only one who listens to it, now does that translate to record sales? Prolly not, but they have never been a big commercial selling machine anyway, however they are a great live concert group and putting out an album such as this is brilliant in the fact the they recognize that the real money is at the venues, so they have added more diverse music to the arsenal to get people to fork over $25-$50 per ticket to see them and whoever they have on the record. It’s all demographics. White america spends the money anyway, we watch it on a low quality website in small k-bites of footage. We are the ones that’s committing an epic fail not them.

  • UncleTom

    First off I kinda stumbled across Bol bout 2-2 1/2 years ago. I’ve read XXL for years though (since the inception) but did he change or am i missing something because since I’ve checked out this site his posts have gone from bad to worse. This dude writing for the wrong magazine, who the fuck is this Conor guy. And stop hating on the Roots, Everytime I read your posts you always hating on somebody. Cant cogratulate a nigga for shit. Your site is 10 times better since you started getting high all day. Ambitious writing projects be damned. You soiling your name Just shut it down
    (U dissapoint me) smh

  • T-MarT

    Whats everyones favorite Roots album???
    And why….

    • P. Harris

      illadelph

      front to back, one of the best albums of all time…

  • http://blendzmusik.com dj blendz

    Illadelph will always be they best album imo, b/4 they started ‘experimenting’

  • ff1one@yahoo.com

    cosign with the comments. this was as stale as hip hop right now. Maybe he should write for a indie rock or r&b magazine/blog. I mean we all know the rap game is messed up. Def Jam is being ran by an idot now. However, the roots will never sell out. Hell, they are at the roots of this. Just cause thy make a song for crossover appeal, they still ain’t selling out. The masses know and respect the root and they grind.
    Illadelph, the name alone is crazy. Plus, i was in philly when it dropped and catched a show. There shows alone keepem grinding. Questlove one of my favorite drummers too.

  • JTG

    WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?

    The Roots are the Roots and always will be.

    They’ve always stated how their musical influences are of a really wide range. Maybe they’re just now putting out a sound that they’ve been working on for years.

  • 4mat

    *Yawn*

  • killercrack

    man i bet half of you people commenting that whats bol talking about the roots are ssooo underground,yeah and christina agulara is really spanish. i use to luv the roots,but the only time the do a real hip hop track is when the bring dice raw out his baby mothers basement. Negros please roots aint underground or should i say jive ass crackers please the roots aint underground.they are alternative rap and only trendy white kids listen to them.they are trying so hard to appeal to the masses is sickening.As old DB would say stop acting like a pigs and hogging shit.

  • http://www.generationnextradio.com DJ Pete Marriott

    Damn bol! You’re going in huh? I’m not saying you’re wrong but I’m not saying you’re right either. I’m just saying tho, yo!

  • OutkastedfromHaters

    Its a celebration album

    Made for the love of the path from start to ending of their career

    They have nothing to prove

    Let live…

    JTG is on, they always had a wide range