The Roots | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Roots 

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Depending on what you read, The Tipping Point (Geffen), the seventh album from Philadelphia hip-hop icons the Roots, is either an overt grab for mainstream success or simply uninspired. Neither charge is totally baseless. Measured against the high standard of the Roots' previous work--particularly Phrenology (MCA, 2002), their most ambitious and progressive effort so far--the new record feels slight. From a group that's made its reputation by taking chances, a rap about getting paid ("Give it here, Geffen Records, I'm off the handle / Cut the check, yo, it betta be heavy as anvils") is a letdown. That said, The Tipping Point is yet another solid effort by what may well be the most consistent hip-hop act in history. As usual the grooves are tight and deeply funky. Front man Black Thought flexes his muscles on a pair of old-school beats-and-rhymes joints, "Web" and "Boom!," zigzagging through the lean, kinetic tracks; on "Don't Say Nuthin'," an electro-tweaked jam produced by Scott Storch, the group mocks the vacuous hooks of mainstream hip-hop by mumbling indecipherably through an otherwise radio-friendly chorus. There are some unambiguously ingratiating ploys too--the Family Stone sample on "Star/Pointro," the Timbaland-biting "Duck Down!"--but the Roots still mostly sound like the Roots. The only real surprise comes on the untitled outro medley, where drummer and musical mastermind ?uestlove shows off on a spastic cover of George Kranz's 80s Eurodance hit "Din Daa Daa." Commercial bid or not, the album's hardly burning up the charts; here's hoping the Roots get back to pushing the envelope next time they convene in the studio. St. Juste opens this sold-out show, followed by Common. $35; 18+. Thursday, September 16, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 877-259-5299 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Justin Francis.

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