Skip to main content

THE ROOTS Album Review, Melody Maker, 1997

Melody Maker, 1 February 1997

HIP HOP RULE NUMBER 4080: "live" instrumentation and hip hop don't mix. Hip hop rule Number 4081: except for The Roots. The exception, the exceptional, THE first bomb LP of '97.

The Roots are a six-strong, Philly-based hip hop band with one disappointing LP to their name ('94's so-so Do You Want More), which had critics back-flipping over the "authentic" instrumentation and the hip hop public staying away in droves. Since then, in the epic struggle to record this second LP (hilariously documented in the wicked and engrossing sleeve-notes). The Roots have realised that by blending their unmistakably live touch with the more psychedelic, further-flung robot-funk arrangements of modern hip hop production, they can maintain the old skool Sugarhill-style band feel that made them so lyrically incisive, while finding the jeep'n'street support their undoubted skills deserve.

Illadelph Halflife is a hip hop masterpiece, a gorgeously rich textual riot; the viciously accurate 'Clones' asking all the right questions about hip hop culture; "Illiotic" vocal percussion, simulated horns and human freakbeat-boxes popping all over 'No Great Pretender'; Black Thought and Malik B expanding rap's emotional palette a few light years on the heart-breaking 'The Hypnotic' with D'Angelo; Cassandra Wilson and Steve Coleman jazzing it up something sumptuous on 'One Shine'; hardcore New York style ice-beats and neck-snapping loops coming through strong on the ear-razing 'Concerto Of The Desperado'; Curtis Mayfield soul-pop never more exquisite than on 'What They Do'; the mind-spinning political intelligence and poetic reach of 'Adventures In Wonderland' pretty much upping the ante of anyone who's gonna step to a mix this year.

There's enough wit, style and innovation crammed into each track here to sustain a dozen lesser outfits for a full career. Get diggin'.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1997


Popular posts from this blog


This was my dream. And it was so vivid it really happened. 
I hired a van. The expense was a concern but I needed the capacity. First the long drive north to Middlesborough. I knew he'd be at home, visiting relatives. Made sure my HeadBag was packed. Blindfolds and ballgags. Rope. Some starved, stroppy badgers. Maxi-pack of chloroform-seeped bogroll from Costco. Masking tape. As I eased onto the M1 I told myself again the story of how it was developed from the need for waterproof ammunition casings in WWII. I had to, I was bored, and it's a long schlep up to 'boro. Idly, after securing a mortgage for a bacon roll at Tibshelf, I had an argument with my other personality about whether Middlesborough was in North Yorkshire, County Durham or Teeside. 
Nothing got resolved. A plain-clothes officer pulled me off in the hardshoulder near Malton and issued stern words about punching myself while driving. No hilarity did ensue. I needed to focus. This was a serious business. By noo…


(photo by Pat Pope, full text)  MANIC STREET PREACHERS  ASTORIA, LONDON  SORRY, lifelong fan, but I’m a new convert. I got into them a week ago and here I am. (They start with “Faster and, after the dub and horrorcore they’ve played, it jarrs and fits perfectly.) OK, see it ain’t attitude cos anyone can do that, just cock a snook and suck your cheeks. It ain’t glamour. Glamour is boring. Glamour is loud pretty people who hug, hug, hug, giggling at your geek self all night. And it ain’t rock’n’roll; it was your rock’n’roll that made a nigger-hater the King, your teddy boys who Paki-bashed for Mosley, Notting Hill 1958, your rock’#n’roll build on SAMBO DON’T SELL. I ain’t interested and the Manics are way beyond that. (“Yes” is Stjepan Mestrovic’s “Balkanisation Of The West” turned punk anthem, as if it could be any more punk. No higher compliment exists.)    The four founding points of Manics songs – one: modern life is untenable. Two: no one ever gets used to loneliness. Three: if tr…


Tuesday June 28th, 2016.

OK, a week since the vote and hey, I know the drill. Similar to those habits you kicked back into after 9-11, after 7-7. Heads down. Don't notice the people crossing the road to avoid you. Don't register any reaction to the shop assistants who drop the change with a panic'd repulsion into your foul brown palm. Keep your eyes down, no eye-contact with anyone. Get through the street to safety because the street is a place where you are a target again now, just as you were as a child. Don't ever ever relax again because that moment where your vigilance slips, when you start doubting your own paranoia, is the moment when the van draws up and three pink faces look your way grinning, when the kids see their chance to have some fun, when the guy on his bike who you hadn't thought of leans into the pavement to spit his venom, when the words will come unbidden and deafening, those words that won't just fuck up your day but will haunt your sleep, …