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The Roots

Tipping Point
Geffen Records

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I remember people saying that Phrenology was actually what Black Thought's solo CD was going to be, that the Cody Chestnutt anthem and Tourette's skits were added to make it more Roots. However, maybe Tipping Point is what Black Thought's solo CD was supposed to be, because Phrenology did sound as frenetic as its title imagined it to be, whereas Tipping has the mono-personality that Black Thought seems to possess.

Tipping is the most sedate they've ever sounded, like they recorded the whole thing in their basement, but with major tour-lag.

 

Lead vocalist Black Thought has long since abandoned the scat and five-speed gear-switch rhyme style he employed heavily on Organix and Do You Want More?!? We only really see this side of him at their live shows now. But on "Boom" we do get to hear his more creative side: You'll realize you've been punk'd when you find out that it's not Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap on that song, but Thought giving accurate impressions of each.

 

"Boom," as well as "Web" before it, are the only shots up the nose for The Roots on this one, though. And even on those two songs -- the only with velocity -- Thought's rhyming sounds uninspired. For the rest of the CD, it sounds like The Roots have decided to pick one tempo, one style, and one train of Thought, and run with that for the remaining eight songs.

 

Needing no introduction, Tipping begins -- as do all their other efforts -- with an introduction. Called "Star/Pointro," it's an eerie visit to Sly and Family Stone's "Everybody is a Star." Sly's own star-power bore more resemblance to Warhol's 15 minutes of fame since he burned out, still leaving behind him a sparkling descent. The Roots take those sparks on "Star" and turn them into fireworks. Each voice used in Sly's band version is summoned for The Roots' version and the result is victorious.

 

Moving along -- skipping the lazily strewn-together, unimaginative first single "Don't Say Nuthin'" -- "Guns are Drawn" opens like Main Source's "Lookin' at the Front Door." This is their high-five to dead prez where Thought spits a flat-soda rhyme, "What you gonna do when the police state begin? / already began but I guess depends / on what's really going on, what's happenin'." It's 'posed to be fighting music, but it's so jazzy melaaawdic it comes across more like the dope that arrested the revolution.

 

The Roots reveal Tipping's true intentions with "Stay Cool," where they lift the exact same Al Hirt "Harlem Hendo" horn section that De La Soul did for "Ego-Trippin' pt. 2," which came out exactly 10 years ago. Whether done as a tribute to De La Soul or that era, this is not what we've come to expect from the music of The Roots. Keyboardist Kamal and bass guitarist Hub are mere costume accessories in most of the songs on Tipping, giving the stage mostly to Thought and drummer ?uestlove.

 

In perspective, The Roots have earned the right to go into cruise control as they've done here. They've been light years ahead of most all other hip-hop artists -- not that that's saying much -- for so long that they can coast now. Not terrible, if you just want something to chill to, smoke a blueberry Phillie to. They're still "the ultimate," but I think we want more.

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