Perhaps the coolest part about The Roots being Jimmy Fallon’s house band for both “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and now “The Tonight Show” is their approach to making records since landing the gig of gigs on network television.
You would think the group would want to widen their mass appeal by creating albums that can land them square in the position to parlay commercial exposure. But the truth of things is that the band – led by longtime cohorts Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – is going in the other direction, given the progressive nature of the LPs they’ve dropped since signing up with Fallon, including 2010’s soulful double shot “How I Got Over” and “Wake Up!” with John Legend, the excellently downloadable instrumental tapes “LNJF Sandwiches” and “Dilla Joints,” the airtight concept piece “Undun” from 2011, and last year’s collab with Elvis Costello, “Wise Up Ghost.”
But “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” is easily their most experimental work since 2002’s “Phrenology,” one Black Thought – in a February 2014 interview with XXL – calls “satire, but in that satire it’s an analysis of some of the stereotypes perpetuated in not only the hip-hop community, but in the community.”
While only about 33 minutes in length, the record’s modal ruminations on America’s inner struggle with its own bigotry and bloodlust will last long after its final note. Opening number “Theme from the Middle of the Night” slows Nina Simone down to a minute-and-a-half morphine drip of after-hours soul. Politically potent ciphers from Thought and his current tag-team partners Dice Raw and Greg Porn are as fiery as anything the crew has done since the ‘90s on artfully bombastic tracks like “Never,” “When the People Cheer,” and “Understand,” while the futuristic R&B balladry of guest vocalist Raheem DeVaughn on the last two songs, “The Unraveling” and “Tomorrow,” deliver the dramatic weight symbolized in the album title.
With “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin,” The Roots crew turns hip-hop’s looking glass on itself to deliver an eye- and ear-opening screed on its failures as a generational tool of, as KRS-One once called it, “edutainment.”
The Roots ‘…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin’ Rating: W W W W