The Roots – “Game Theory” (2006)

April 16, 2009 at 7:01 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Another review from the Black Grooves website – this time from Langston Collins Wilkins, Nov. 3, 2006…


Few artists or groups have received as much acclaim both in and outside the hip hop sphere as the Roots. Since they feature live instrumentation as opposed to the more common electronic sound, the Roots have always stood out from their hip hop peers. After winning a Grammy award in 1999, the Roots abandoned their jazz and R&B influences, taking an experimental approach with their next two albums, Phrenology (2002) and The Tipping Point (2004), which were not well received by their core audience. Game Theory is an attempt to recapture their alienated fans while also continuing to advance their music.

The overall sound of Game Theory is semi-dark and very aggressive which fits well with the political nature of much of the lyrics. There are numerous highlights on the album. “Here We Come” is an old school style head banger that can rock the headphones, the jeeps, and the clubs. On “Long Time,” Black Thought and former State Property member “Peedi Peedi” reminisce about Philadelphia over up-tempo drums and a slick guitar lick.  On “A Clock with No Hands,” the Roots take a break from their aggressive sound as the smooth, jazzy beat allows Black Thought to discuss the pitfalls of inner-city life. Other highlights include “Don’t Feel Right,” “In the Music,” and the Jay Dee tribute “Can’t Stop This.”

Although the production on Game Theory is outstanding, the band cannot overcome Black Thought’s pedestrian microphone skills. Black Thought’s monotonous delivery and average lyrics are masked to a degree on the up-tempo tracks, but very evident when things are slowed down. Guest appearances by Dice Raw, Peedi Peedi, and the return of Malik B help some, but the Roots would make much better music if a more stylistically diverse MC was added to the regular lineup. Also, otherwise solid tracks such as “False Media” and “In the Music” are damaged by terrible hooks.

On their previous two albums, the Roots sacrificed quality for experimentation. They failed to find a happy medium between their desire to progress and the sonic desire of their core hip hop audience. The same cannot be said for Game Theory as it is very much a hardcore hip hop album. On each song, virtuosity is shunned, and the instrumental parts are fused together in a way that creates a very cohesive sound. The cut and paste style of the majority of the tracks harkens back to old Bomb Squad or Pete Rock productions. Aside from a few missteps, Game Theory is a very solid release and should reclaim many of their lost fans.

Langston Collins Wilkins



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Bill Flanagan – “Interview with Bob Dylan – Part 3” (2009)

April 16, 2009 at 9:38 am (Bob Dylan, Music, Reviews & Articles)

More of Bill Flanagan’s fascinating recent interview with Bob Dylan…




In that song CHICAGO AFTER DARK, were you thinking about the new President?

Not really. It’s more about State Street and the wind off Lake Michigan and how sometimes we know people and we are no longer what we used to be to them. I was trying to go with some old time feeling that I had.


You liked Barack Obama early on. Why was that?

I’d read his book and it intrigued me.


“Audacity of Hope”?

No it was called “Dreams of My Father.”


What struck you about him?

Well, a number of things. He’s got an interesting background. He’s like a fictional character, but he’s real. First off, his mother was a Kansas girl. Never lived in Kansas though, but with deep roots. You know, like Kansas bloody Kansas. John Brown the insurrectionist. Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, Guerillas. Wizard of Oz Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace. And then his father. An African intellectual. Bantu, Masai, Griot type heritage – cattle raiders, lion killers. I mean it’s just so incongruous that these two people would meet and fall in love. You kind of get past that though. And then you’re into his story. Like an odyssey except in reverse.


In what way?

First of all, Barack is born in Hawaii. Most of us think of Hawaii as paradise – so I guess you could say that he was born in paradise.


And he was thrown out of the garden.

Not exactly. His mom married some other guy named Lolo and then took Barack to Indonesia to live. Barack went to both a Muslim school and a Catholic school. His mom used to get up at 4:00 in the morning and teach him book lessons three hours before he even went to school. And then she would go to work. That tells you the type of woman she was. That’s just in the beginning of the story.


What else did you find compelling about him?

Well, mainly his take on things. His writing style hits you on more than one level. It makes you feel and think at the same time and that is hard to do. He says profoundly outrageous things. He’s looking at a shrunken head inside of a glass case in some museum with a bunch of other people and he’s wondering if any of these people realize that they could be looking at one of their ancestors.


What in his book would make you think he’d be a good politician?

Well nothing really. In some sense you would think being in the business of politics would be the last thing that this man would want to do. I think he had a job as an investment banker on Wall Street for a second – selling German bonds. But he probably could’ve done anything. If you read his book, you’ll know that the political world came to him. It was there to be had.


Do you think he’ll make a good president?

I have no idea. He’ll be the best president he can be. Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men. Johnson would be a good example of that … Nixon, Clinton in a way, Truman, all the rest of them going back. You know, it’s like they all fly too close to the sun and get burned.


Did you ever read any other presidential autobiographies?

Yeah, I read Grant’s.


What was he like? Any similarities?

The times were different obviously. And Grant wrote his book after he’d left office.


What did you find interesting about him?

It’s not like he’s a great writer. He’s analytical and cold, but he does have a sense of humor. Grant, besides being a military strategist, was a working man. Worked horses. Tended the horses, plowed and furrowed. Brought in all the crops – the corn and potatoes. Sawed wood and drove wagons since the time he was about eleven. Got a crystal clear memory of all the battles he’d been in.


Do you remember any particular battle that Grant fought?

There were a lot of battles but the Shiloh one is most interesting. He could’ve lost that. But he was determined to win it at any price, using all kinds of strategies, even faking retreat. You could read it for yourself.


When you think back to the Civil War, one thing you forget is that no battles, except Gettysburg, were fought in the North.

Yeah. That’s what probably makes the Southern part of the country so different.


There is a certain sensibility, but I’m not sure how that connects?

It must be the Southern air. It’s filled with rambling ghosts and disturbed spirits. They’re all screaming and forlorning. It’s like they are caught in some weird web – some purgatory between heaven and hell and they can’t rest. They can’t live, and they can’t die. It’s like they were cut off in their prime, wanting to tell somebody something. It’s all over the place. There are war fields everywhere. . . a lot of times even in people’s backyards.


Have you felt them?

Oh sure. You’d be surprised. I was in Elvis’s hometown – Tupelo. And I was trying to feel what Elvis would have felt back when he was growing up.


Did you feel all the music Elvis must have heard?

No, but I’ll tell you what I did feel. I felt the ghosts from the bloody battle that Sherman fought against Forrest and drove him out. There’s an eeriness to the town. A sadness that lingers. Elvis must have felt it too.


Are you a mystical person?



Any thoughts about why?

I think it’s the land. The streams, the forests, the vast emptiness. The land created me. I’m wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I‘m more at home in the vacant lots. But I have a love for humankind, a love of truth, and a love of justice. I think I have a dualistic nature. I’m more of an adventurous type than a relationship type.


But the album is all about love – love found, love lost, love remembered, love denied.

Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.



To be continued in part 4 ……

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