Rhythm & Views 

The Roots

The cover for The Tipping Point, the seventh album from Philadelphia's The Roots, features a photo of a vaguely familiar face--is that frontman Black Thought?

Rather, the cover photo alludes to the album's concept by depicting one Malcolm Little (later and better known as Malcolm X) before he awakened into the consciousness that later became his all-important bailiwick.

Named after the Malcolm Gladwell book that first described a phenomenon similar to the scientific notion of "critical mass," The Tipping Point is, like all Roots albums, thoughtful and well-crafted. The Roots remain the only hip-hop group that insists on live instrumentation, to the credit of their sound. Even when they sample, like the Sly and the Family Stone vocal used on the leadoff track "Star/Pointro," their sophisticated playing obscures the feeling of "ripoff" engendered by some artists' sampling (see Daddy, Puff).

Although the Roots are circumspect in avoiding the cliche-ridden landscape of overtly political songs, the defining undercurrent of their music is a knowing, almost resigned anger at social and political injustice. This is less pronounced on The Tipping Point than on 2002's Phrenology or 1999's Things Fall Apart, which was also inspired by a book (Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's novel of the same name). It comes almost as a surprise that only three of this album's cuts reference current geopolitics--"Guns Are Drawn," "Why (What's Goin' On)" and an untitled bonus track at the end of the album.

But no matter; The Tipping Point showcases the Roots' adept musicianship and pithy raps, the basis for their continued relevance.


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