legendary Roots crew has had a
pretty damn unique career. I don’t know of any other artist or group that has
changed their sound and defied their previous classification with virtually
each album. Aside from their first two “jazz rap” albums, the obscure Organix and the break out Do You Want More?!?!?, the proceeding
albums have flipped the script. Even though you can never know what to expect
from a Roots album (except that it
will be good), Game Theory packs even
more mystery as it’s their first effort on Def

Game Theory proves to be no exception to the
rule; it’s unlike the rest of their albums and it’s good, but I’d be lying if I
only expected a “good” album from the Philadelphia
band. The ever-talkative Roots
drummer and visionary ?uestlove has
been saying for months that this was their “darkest” record to date. In the
past, ?eusto has made claims about
the sound of an upcoming album, only for it to be received in a totally
different way. This time around, the funky drummer hit the nail on the head.
This is their darkest record, both musically and topically.

It isn’t
much of a surprise to hear a darker vibe as the band has long proven to be
capable of anything. It’s Black Thought
that will make your ears perk up. Not because of any dead-on impersonations of
rap legends or any of his other mind bending skills, but because he opens up.
Few emcees have ever been able to boast the technical proficiency that BT can, but he’s been long criticized
for rarely going outside of his emcee’s emcee braggadocio. On The Tipping Point he showed some
indications that he would start talking about “real” issues, and sure enough he
opens the flood gates on Game Theory.

From the
outset, BT starts lettin’ off,
scorning the press on “False Media.” Unfortunately, only his rhymes will keep
you from hitting the skip button as the beat is unusually dull and the spoken
chorus only brings things to a halt. The fun really begins with the title
track, a rock hard banger that is classic Roots
in every sense of the word. The up-tempo lead single “Don’t Feel Right” is a
beautiful anomaly – a feel good vibe expressing just the opposite: “Yo, in the land of the unseen hand that
holds trouble/theorize your game, it’s difficult to roll a double/the struggle
ain’t right up in your face, it’s more subtle/but it’s still comin across like
the bridge and tunnel vision/I try to school these bucks, but they don’t wanna
listen/that’s the reason the system makin its paper from the prison/and that’s
the reason we livin where they don’t wanna visit

“Take It
There” is more of ‘Riq-lamented
societal ills, though his words may lose attention in favor of the incredible
song structure. The butter-smooth and likely second single “Baby” follows. Hip
Hop songs showing sympathy for the fairer sex either works in spades or fails;
this one works in spades. What doesn’t work is “Here I Come,” not so much
because it’s bad (it’s decent as a standalone track), but it sticks out like a
sore thumb on the album and certainly doesn’t belong between “Baby” and “Long
Time.” As somber as an album this is, it finishes on a series of extremely
solemn vibe with the incredible “Clock With No Hands,” “Atonement” and the
touching Dilla tribute “Can’t Stop

There have
been complaints that The Roots
played it safe with “Game Theory (which I’d pretty much agree with),” and that
they caved to what Def Jam wanted
(which makes no sense at all). Yes it’s a relatively safe and straight forward
album musically, no doubt about it. But Thought
makes the most lyrically compelling album to date and the production is still
nothing short of great. I still want more.