The Roots, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam)
By now it’s clear that everything they do gotta be conceptual, and while one might hope for a little more satyricon up in their prosimetrum, at least they balance ambition with tautness - ?uestlove and crew barely log 35 minutes even with digressionary interludes and musique concrète from Nina Simone and Michel Chion. Throughout, associates Dice Raw and Greg Porn preach truth as often as Black Thought, painting short vignettes of street dreams and good times, charter school lies and bullets in the head, Chiraq and Philly grief from those who escaped the cycle. ?uestlove’s wrong to finger hip-hop within that cycle, just as he’s plenty opportunistic to stagger problem-delineating Vulture columns with new albums positing answers. So allow them to frame these stark and knotty mini-dramas as some sort of hip-hop exegesis. One can just as easily recast their talking points as lamentations for bigger things: bloody capitalism, downward mobility, theories of marginal deterrence, “A life in times unchecked / now that’s American,” “For your entertainment / money is the language”. When the storm clouds finally break for Raheem DeVaughn’s affirmations and Kamal Gray’s choppy piano, it feels like earned escapism and a little glory glory.
Akrobatik, Built To Last (Spit Digital)
Call it a comeback - for once, the self-mythology and arena horns bolstering claims of dogged determinism are appropriate, even moving. Two years after this Bostonian was knocked sideways by an aortic aneurysm, Jared Bridgeman is ready to talk tough over old-school drums/scratch about giving the game CPR. Yet his terse detailing of bodily collapse, which includes a shout-out to the “incredible professional abilities” of Mass General’s finest, takes real hip-hop risks for a game that may never respect health scares as a legit spark for all-eyez-on-me litanies. But playing the game isn’t his métier, not when he cuts his boasts with self-awareness (“whether you know it or not / I been blowin’ up spots”) or constructs his tax bracket complaints around government-funded aggression in Syria. And while that derrière makes him “Stop And Stare,” his firmly pro-woman desire respects boundaries and cultivates patience. He’s his own best judge: “Slightly off-center, but always on point”.
Fatima, Yellow Memories (Eglo Records)
In which Eglo’s Senegalese/Swedish in-house vocalist proves with the help of an underperforming Theo Parrish that neither neosoul nor horn charts are as easy as they seem to knob-twiddlers. With her impartial hand betraying little rhyme or reason, Fatima flits pleasantly between sculpted grooves cooked up by Knxwledge, Scoop DeVille, a couple others, hooks always secondary to phrasing that favors lyrics of fuzzy-headed indeterminacy (“just because the skin is / camouflaged with roses sweet as gin”). But once in a while, it all comes together: the drum-forward breeze of “Family,” jazz syncopation atop organ flutter on “Biggest Joke Of All,” spooky august echo on the untalky “Talk”. R&B as introspectively obtuse studio construction, take it or leave it.