Since becoming the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (QRO Indie on Late Night TV), The Roots have become songwriting machines. Earlier this year, drummer and bandleader Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson told SPIN Magazine (link) that since joining the show they write anywhere from three to seven songs per day. No wonder they have released three studio albums in the last four years. And that isn’t even counting their superb John Legend collaboration album Wake Up! from 2010. Their most recent album, Undun, is piquing curiosity everywhere as it is the underground hip-hop pioneers’ first-ever concept album.
It tells the story of a young thug who makes bad decisions that derail his whole life. But the unique thing is that the story is told backwards. The album opens at the end of the character’s life on “Dun”, and ends at the beginning with four movements, the album’s final four tracks, “Redford”, “Possibility (2nd Movement)”, “Will To Power (3rd Movement)”, and finally “Finality (4th Movement)”.
It’s abundantly clear that The Roots have just as much to say politically and socially as they ever did. But what makes Undun special is that it showcases their musical talent probably more than any of their albums prior. That is why it is especially worthy of appreciation. The album’s crowning achievement ironically enough has no lyrics. It’s the last four tracks mentioned previously. They comprise a soulful take on what was to be the beginning of the story’s main character’s life. But they maintain a sense of closure, like listeners are clearly coming to the end of something.
Undun is a brief work. It clocks in at just over thirty-eight minutes. That’s pretty short in the grand scheme of studio albums, not to mention a concept album. But more power to The Roots. When inspiration strikes it’s completely admirable to churn out music the way they are. This album works well and here’s hoping their creative streak continues.