Like a lot of folks, I’ve been waiting for The Roots’ How I Got Over for what seems like years. It was set to drop last year — the video for the title track/first single dropped last fall — but was finally released yesterday.
I’m a die-hard when it comes to The Roots, and willing to be an apologist for them for their sonic sins mainly because those missteps are relatively few and far between. (“Pussy Galore,” perhaps my least favorite Roots track of all time, still has a pretty dope beat; those 10-minute spoken word poems that used to be tucked in at the end of their albums are easily passable.) But even for an apologist like me, How I Got Over is pretty disappointing.
There are a few highlights here, and about where you’d expect them to be. The album sounds a lot different than their last, the terrific Rising Down, and boasts a much more plaintive mood and with mellower hooks. Black Thought weirdly phones in a couple verses (notably the first one on “Dear God 2.0“) but he’s his usual, muscular, percussive, self (“Doin It Again.”) But he takes a back seat on this album, as there’s a guest MC on nearly every track. This isn’t all bad since the Roots bench (Truck North, P.O.R.N., etc.) is solid and deep, and because Phonte, who guests on two songs, is creeping into that rarefied Andre 3000 space in which he steals and improves every track on which he appears. (There was also supposed to be a new collaboration with Cody Chestnutt on this album, but it’s nowhere to be found.)
But on the other side, you have some new dude named STS, who has the most annoying hip-hop voice since Bootie Brown. He appears on “Right On” and “Hustla,” two songs I hope to never hear again. Then there’s “The Fire,” which sounds like something The Rising Tied or a similar group would do, and one that probably makes the most sense if you’re 16 and have a big wrestling tournament in an hour. It sounds like the music for a cheesy training montage. Coming into this album, The Roots had produced maybe three songs that i’ve absolutely hated over a nearly 20-year career. They’ve matched that total on this one album.
One of the criticisms (or strengths, depending on whom you ask) is that so much of their music sounds better at their famously excellent stage shows. That’ll undoubtedly be true here; peep their dope performance of How I Got Over on Jimmy Fallon, which has already become a staple of their live sets. Who knows, though? I wasn’t blown away by The Tipping Point when it first dropped, but I’m a fan of it now. Maybe that’ll be true here.