Discography Check: The Roots

(Ed. Note: For some reason, Rising Down, The Roots' 2008 release, is unavailable on Spotify)

By @TrueGodImmortal 

There are very few people in music that have a near flawless discography. A majority of hip hop artists and artists in general have those two or three missteps in their catalog, some have even more than that amongst a classic or two. For the Philadelphia natives The Roots, that isn't a problem at all. They boast a plethora of classics, along with very good to completely solid albums with hardly any weak spots at all. This is an amazing feat to say the least, and today we take a look at the discography by the Philly crew. Not included are their collaboration albums with Elvis Costello, Betty Wright, and John Legend, because these albums don't fall under the guidelines for an official Roots album. Let's get into it.

*Organix (1993)

-The first album from the Philly collective wasn't as polished as I would like, but Black Thought provided enough lyrical couplets and the sound was still solid. The band hadn't perfected their craft just yet, but the debut product was showing signs of what was to come. There was a jazzy element in this album as well, with standout songs like "The Anti-Circle" and "Common Dust" being two of the strongest. They also had a huge posse cut essentially in "The Session", which clocks in at around 13 minutes. A solid first effort, but left a little to be desired.

*Do You Want More??!!! (1995)

-When the Roots returned with their second album, they ramped up the jazz factor just a bit more and created a near classic album. They would see Black Thought in what felt like his prime, as he lyrically seemed even more advanced than the previous effort. The production here was smooth as expected and it shines through with a different flare from the average hip hop act. Songs like "Proceed", "Silent Treatment", "Lazy Afternoon", and many others fill out a very complete album that left a true statement from the Roots crew.

*Illadelph Halflife (1996)

-In what could slightly be seen as a departure from the laid back jazz rap feel, the group's third album is a bit more rugged and aggressive, as the drums knock just a bit harder and the lyrics are more in your face in some way. Songs such as "Clones", "What They Do", "Episodes", and "UNIverse at War" all provided a bit of an upgrade from their previous project. If their sophomore album was a near classic, then the Roots finally got the formula correct here, because Illadelph Halflife is a definite hip hop classic.

*Things Fall Apart (1999)

-This could be seen as the breakthrough album for the Roots. With more of a slight social commentary infusion into their normal brand of awareness and aggressive jazz rap, the group hit big with their Erykah Badu and Eve assisted single "You Got Me". This album came as the true starting point for the legendary Soulquarians era, as Common, Mos Def, J.Dilla and more were featured on this album. This album felt like a statement from the group and it remains their only project to eventually go platinum. It was nominated for a Grammy, and honestly it should have won over Eminem (we know why Em won..... but still). Tracks like "Adrenaline!", "Double Trouble", "Act Too", "The Spark", and many others make this the 2nd classic in a row from the Roots crew. So far, their catalog is basically flawless.

*Phrenology (2002)

-This album was met with some mixed reviews and reactions, but I truly loved this album. To me, it's not a classic, but it is damn sure close to being one. The production here felt more amped from what we heard in the past, and the guest appearances were all beautifully placed. The Roots were already known for being outside of the box, but songs such as "Break You Off", which originally featured D'Angelo, but the final product features Musiq Soulchild, is almost a risk for the Roots in its simplistic subject matter, but it works perfectly due to the smooth vocals and the fluid production. Tracks like "Water", "Quills", "The Seed 2.0", and "Pussy Galore" all help to lead us to the end of the album, but there is no song on the album to me stronger than the Jill Scott assisted "Complexity". It's a raw look and honest song at the emotional complexities of people and essentially how they affect our relationships. This album is damn near perfect, but also daring.

*The Tipping Point (2004)

-Adopting a thought process of less is more, The Roots experimented with what could be seen as a dumbed down album. Bringing Scott Storch back around for some simple production was one step, but the album feels almost like a blatant mockery of the pop music scene while trying to tow the line of it. It is likely the weakest album in this discography, but the kicker here is that it isn't a bad album by any stretch. Tracks like "Star/Pointro", "Somebody's Gotta Do It", and "Stay Cool" make this an overall enjoyable listen, it just wasn't comparable to their previous work.

*Game Theory (2006)

-This was an album that took me by surprise. I didn't know what to expect of their first album on Def Jam, but as usual, The Roots didn't disappoint me at all. This is yet another solid album, and a step up from the Tipping Point, but a slight step below Do You Want More, Illadelph Halflife, Things Fall Apart, and Phrenology. The end of the album is where you locate some of the strongest songs in "Clock With No Hands", "Long Time", and "Atonement", but much like the majority of their catalog, this album is a solid listen all the way through, despite being a bit darker than what we were accustomed to from the Philly crew.

*Rising Down (2008)

-This album was interesting. It almost continues the mood exactly of Game Theory, with similar dense production and darker lyrical content rooted in political commentary. This is a strategy that worked well for the group on Game Theory, but for some reason, it doesn't work AS well on Rising Down, though this album has its moments for sure.  The title track, "The Show", "75 Bars", "Lost Desire", and the go-go music inspired "Rising Up" are all solid listeners and though this album is slightly less cohesive than Game Theory, it is a very good album. The crazy thing about it is that even though Rising Down is a very good album and likely one of the best hip hop albums of 2008, it is still a middle of the road release in the Roots discography. That explains how great their catalog is.

*How I Got Over (2010)

-After their first two albums on Def Jam took a darker approach and more dense production turn, The Roots come back with a true classic that features the perfect production and the most consistent MC, who also remains underrated, in Black Thought. The guest appearances on this album are truly a dream come true for this hip hop fan, as Blu and Phonte (two of my personal favorite rappers) both make two appearances on this album. The content on this album is amazing, and songs such as "Dear God 2.0", "Walk Alone", "Radio Daze", "Now Or Never", "The Day", "The Fire", and "Web 20/20" are some of my favorite songs and that's already half the album listed! There's not one weak track on this entire album, and I'd dare say I would rank it as one of their top 2 or 3 albums in their catalog, which making a classic 17 years after your arrival in the game is another incredible feat in itself.

*Undun (2011)

-The Roots had found a rhythm with their previous album, and instead of keeping that same rhythm, they went into a different direction yet again, proving how fearless they are musically. This album was a concept, based around the life of a fictional character named Redford Stevens. It is essentially an attempt at bringing a cinematic album, and while this album isn't exactly perfect, it has a lot of great moments and some solid storytelling. The production gives a truly soulful yet almost atmospheric vibe that makes the cohesiveness flow well, and with tracks like "Make My" featuring Big K.R.I.T., the amazing Phonte featured "One Time", the Bilal featured "The OtherSide", and a few others, this album does its job very well. It is truly a complete album in every sense of the word, there are just one or two tracks that we could have done without, but this is yet another solid and near flawless effort from the band with the best discography in hip hop.

*..... And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (2014)

-This might be a rare misstep for the Roots, but it isn't a bad album at all. It is a satirical look at hip hop and the perpetuated violence that's promoted, along with yet another concept that this time features multiple characters involved. I consider this album to be just as risky as some of their previous efforts, but it doesn't work as well as some of their past projects. Is the album bad? Not at all. If comparing this album to other releases from the year, it's damn near miles ahead. However, it pales in comparison to their other work. A good album, with some really powerful songs and concepts, but a couple of misfires and the rare bland track from the group.

When looking back on hip hop history and discographies, there aren't many who can truly say they avoided making a terrible album or even one that completely didn't work. No matter what The Roots do, their music always seems to work, with only an occasional misfire in the form of a misplaced song on an album. Otherwise, they have a damn near flawless catalog. Do the Roots really have the best discography in hip hop history? I would have to say yes. It's hard to make a case against them. Hands down.



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