Building off the conceptual nature of Undun, The Roots‘ 11th studio album plays out more like a musical than it does a traditional hip-hop album. It’s broken down into 12 scenes that explore a broad range of topics and emotions – from the current state of rap and the polarizing figures that inhabit it to the nature of good and evil.
Instead of follwing a singular individual – i.e. Redord Stevens in Undun – there are a cast of characters that help unfurl the narrative in …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, lyricists and singers like Dice Raw, Greg Porn, and Mercedes Martinez (among others) rounding out the ensemble.
Beginning with a Nina Simone jam is classic Roots. It’s a nod not only to an influential figure, but a way to preface the forthcoming story – an epigraph that sets the tone for what is a relatively short project: [LISTEN]
Each song has its own theme, and the drama is consistent. On “Never” for example we meet a downtrodden individual who’s at his absolute breaking point. His story could be that of anyone who’s ever been ignored or marginalized, and The Roots are looking to give this nameless, faceless person a voice: [LISTEN]
Black Thought is as sharp as ever, he’s like Karl Malone just steady putting up numbers even in the latter years of his career. The guests play their part too, never overstating their presence or breaking the theme. There’s even a Raheem DeVaughn sighting. His benevolent spirit can be felt on each of his appearances, particularly on “Tomorrow:” [LISTEN]
Despite the strong narratives, solid beats and well placed guest spots, there’s a certain incomplete feeling to the album, like they were working on two, three or god knows how many projects at the same time. It’s intellectual and heady, but lacks the legs needed to make it a runaway success. The foundation of this would be better suited for a Broadway play than an album like what Melvin Van Peebles did with Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death.
It’s not the most well executed album on their resume, but still a tight one that touches upon some very stimulating topics. At the very least it’ll be a conversation piece for those interested in rap as a larger sounding board. On “Understand” we see how The Roots acknowledge that even though they’re striving for the truth the pop world may not be ready for what they have to say. At least in this medium: [LISTEN]