|A Haunting History Lesson With Your Hip-Hop|
|[for which I did the string arrangements and performed on piano]:|
From: The New York Times:
Conundrum, provocation, history lesson, ritual, chamber recital, jazz concert, elegy — the Roots’ performance at the Public Theater on Tuesday night was decidedly not a standard kickoff for a hip-hop album. That was clear when, near the beginning of the show, balloon animals were dropped onto the stage, covering it knee-deep; for the rest of the performance, each entrance and exit was accompanied by balloons popping underfoot like gunshots. Dozens of nooses also hung overhead.
The Roots are to release their 11th album, “... and then you shoot your cousin” (Def Jam), next week. It’s a brief, bleak collection of songs haunted by the desperate, self-destructive cycles of poverty and by thoughts of death and God. The music draws on gospel, soul, chamber music, electronic noise and free jazz, along with brittle hip-hop samples. Songs from the album were heard on Tuesday night primarily as recordings from the disc-jockey setup — laptop and turntables — of the Roots’ leader, Questlove (Ahmir Thompson). The Roots’ main rapper, Black Thought (Tarik Trotter), delivered poetic monologues instead, including one that telescoped African-American history from slavery to the present.
Questlove has thought deeply and broadly about African-American culture. He remains idealistic about the potential role of hip-hop, even as much current hip-hop endorses shallow materialism, and he determinedly places the Roots’ hip-hop in the lineage of forward-looking, socially conscious black music; the concert also featured recordings of Albert Ayler, James Brown, Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln.
The musicians weren’t the same Roots band seen regularly on NBC’s “Tonight” show with Jimmy Fallon. They included the Metropolis Ensemble — the conductor Andrew Cyr, a string quartet and four singers — and the jazz pianist D. D. Jackson, who wrote dramatic, somberly dissonant arrangements for the ensemble. Mr. Jackson also hurled crashing free-jazz clusters and tremolos in a duet with Questlove on drums. Jeremy Ellis tapped out some two-handed workouts from a sampler, and near the beginning of the concert, there was a primordial drone from Craig Harris on didgeridoo, joined by the percussive vocals of Rahzel, a pioneering beatboxer. Two male dancers also appeared, break dancing amid the balloons.
It was a miscellany of grim tidings and stubborn determination, of sounds both earthy and avant-garde, of bitter realities and electronic hallucinations. Songs from the album concluded with “Tomorrow,” a resolutely optimistic tune with the recorded voice of Raheem DeVaughn declaring himself “thankful to be alive.”
The Roots followed it with words from a Sun Ra recording — “If you’re not a myth, whose reality are you?” (and vice versa) — and then the kind of finale that might be expected from a Roots concert: the appearance of the band’s lead guitarist, Captain Kirk Douglas, to wail and shred through a climactic version of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.” This performance wasn’t the rollout of a consumer product; it was joining a cultural continuum.
| The New York Times|