60-Second Critic: Game Theory

Game Theory
The Roots
(Island Def Jam)

First off, kill this noise about The Roots selling out. True, their latest comes courtesy of Def Jam honcho Jay-Z, who's arguably the biggest name —


Game Theory
The Roots
(Island Def Jam)

First off, kill this noise about The Roots selling out. True, their latest comes courtesy of Def Jam honcho Jay-Z, who's arguably the biggest name — no, brand —in rap and a fixture in the tabs thanks to some girl from around the way he picked up (name rhymes with fiancée). Doesn't matter. Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter isn't rocking Hermès boat shoes here – in fact, he's sprinting in the opposite direction, getting grittier and more political than ever on this “commercial” release. The real genius of Game Theory is how drummer/musical mad scientist Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and the Roots crew wrap Trotter's liquid poetry in grooves so smooth you might think it's a straight-up party platter. “Don't Feel Right” taps into societal ills with a head-nodding swing, and “In The Music” rides an ominous Night Rider-style riff through Philly's bloodiest streets: “Clips and revolvers, Georges and Benjamins / A celebration of the loss of your innocence / To your old self you lost any resemblance.” There's even a little uplift on “Long Time,” a smoothed-out funk ode to old neighborhoods and familiar faces that's guaranteed to carry you to a more serene block than the one you're standing on right now. And is that a spooky Radiohead loop on a hip-hop track? (Yes, and the cut is the slow-swaggering “Atonement”). Game Theory may be the sweetest-sounding Roots record ever, but this candy isn't filler, and it's 100 percent compromise-free. Grade: A-

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