If you thought Philly’s finest got soft during their ongoing residency at Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, think again. …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is full of gritty street talk and tales of stress-riddled hood situations. The Roots‘ frontman Black Thought has stated that with their 11th studio album, the intention was to create “a satirical look at violence in hip hop and American society overall”. It shows.
Thought starts off with lines like “I’m down to 95 dollars, that’s the extent of my riches / Out of 99 problems, 98 of ’em is bitches”. This bleak outlook is pervasive throughout the (relatively short) album. Later on, Dice Raw waxes philosophical on a hook: “People ask for god / ‘Til the day he comes / They see God’s face / Turn around and run.” These two quotes sum up the main topics of the album’s lyrical content: money, women and religion. The myriad of characters in …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin find themselves in a downward spiral related to one or more of these things.
The grim circumstances explored in the album are well-complemented by spacey, ominous beats. It often gets intensely foreboding, like drummer Questlove is just phoning in a basic beat to accompany the vocals or organs that rise slowly in the background. Eerie samples of older tunes by Nina Simone and Mary Lou Williams are placed between the songs, which contain enough guest artists to shift your focus constantly and maintain the mood. When things do pick up, and the beats get full-blown head-bob worthy, it almost seems sarcastic. This doesn’t take away from any of the catchier tracks or excellent dark humor peppered throughout, though.
The intention was to create a satirical look at violence in hip-hop and American society overall. It shows.
As an experimental album with a narrow focus, …And Then is a success. However, as a Philly native, I expect more from our most prolific ambassadors. It might not be fair to be hoping for another Things Fall Apart or Phrenology, but can we at least get another Tipping Point or Game Theory? It’s best to view this album for what it really is: a divergent experiment with some highlights, rather than a true studio album slaved over for months.
Best Beat: “Understand”. Thought, Dice Raw and Porn body this one.
Best Verse: “Gravedigga, dig a hole that fit a black nigga / My body stiff as a Madame Tussaud wax figure / My transformation: a caterpillar from crack dealer and backpedaller, was no less than spectacular / Yeah I was trappin’ money, flippin’ like a spatula / Now I put that sucker in a box like Dracula / I led the devil in a dance / An electric slide, across the line I drew up in the sand”
Greatest Miss: “The Coming”. We love you Mercedes Martinez, but someone should have rapped over this.
For fans of: The broken window theory, tales of poverty, traditional instrumentation and experimental hip-hop