While Undun might not be the single best album The Roots have ever put out, it is easily capable of sitting alongside their greatest albums. Of course, this is to be expected by The Roots, their reputation as one of the most consistent hip hop groups of all time is well earned.
Undun is a concept album portraying the life and death of the semi-fictional character Redford Stephens , starting at his death and rewinding from there. The protagonist as it were is portrayed as a man torn between living an honest life and living one filled with fast money and crime. Obviously he chooses the latter, and ends up paying for it with his life.
The production style of Undun seems to be working with an experimental jazz sound blended perfectly together with a 70s R&B sound. The beats manage to maintain an overall bleak sound, without coming off overbearing. Each song’s beat speaks volumes about the mood of the protagonist, from the angry rebellious feel of ‘Stomp’ to the optimistic and joyous feel of ‘Kool On’, even the resigned feeling of finality that accompanies the song ‘Sleep’. Towards the end of the album, Undun moves to an Avant-Garde feel however, blending together multiple short instrumental tracks mixing together piano keys and classical compositions.
While the album has top notch production, the production is not the main draw. Black Thought’s prowess as an MC is often overlooked, he has proven time and time again that he is able to tell a story like no ones business. While his flow might not be as flashy as some other MC’s, Black Thought’s wordplay and double entenedres should be more than enough to make any fans of good lyricism giddy. He demonstrates this quite well in the beginning of the song ‘Stomp’ with the lines, “Yeah, speaking to pieces of a man/ Staring at the future in the creases of my hand.” In this line, the protagonist seems to be reflecting on the murder he had just committed (literally leaving a man in pieces) while referencing the song ‘Speaking to Pieces of a Man’ he ponders his future that he holds in his palm, referencing palm readings while referring to the gun he was holding in his hand that he sees as his future. While Black Thought’s verses act as the backbone of the album and as Redford’s main voice, the multiple guest features do a great job of reflecting the internal conflict within the protagonist, each guest artist bringing a valuable perspective to the album.
The album really has no tracks that need to be skipped, though the hook on ‘Lighthouses’ drags it down a bit, making it the weakest song on the album… It still carries it’s own. The only true weakness of the album is it’s length. At just under 40 minutes it leaves you wanting a lot more. It’s length is perhaps the only thing holding Undun back from being considered an instant classic. Despite this, Undun stands firmly as one of the best albums of the year, if not the best.
Best Tracks: Stomp, Kool On, The Otherside