The Roots

Rising Down
Def Jam

The Roots' latest has been cast as a one-way trip to Bummer Town, and that's understandable: Thematically, it's heavier than Jared Fogle before he realized how much money he could make crediting his weight loss to sandwiches. Nonetheless, the disc's seriousness and smarts represent a welcome departure from commercial hip-hop's current it's-all-good bias.

The title track sets the tone with erudite rhymes about our out-of-control planet underscored by drummer ?uestlove's brawny boom-bap. And if the psychological study "Singing Man" boasts more nerve than insight, "I Will Not Apologize" gives defiance a jolting infusion of Afrobeat, and "Rising Up" shines a light in the darkness.

The results won't be confused with a party record. Still, the group deserves props for Rising Down instead of dumbing down.

 
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