The Roots are one of the few hip hop bands still left in a genre that is constantly changing. EDM beats and rattling hi-hats have replaced the funk and soul samples of before and a lot of rapper’s main priority is now ‘turning up’ and ‘popping molly’, yet The Roots have never been the type to conform to what is popular. ….And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is further proof and is definitely a refreshing listen, as it highlighting the problems with violence in American culture and hip-hop, rather than glorifying it like so many artists today.
The opening track features a Nina Simone sample that perfectly sets the melancholic tone for the album. Throughout we follow the story of several characters as they live through the everyday struggles of having nothing for dinner and living in “a land where the liquor stores deliver quicker than Papa John’s”. The soulful church organs and sombre pianos on tracks like ‘When The People Cheer’ and ‘Understand’ help to make this record a blissfully gloomy and downbeat album.
From a production standpoint, it is quite varied and there is an evident change half way through the running time. Hip-hop drum patterns and samples are switched with cinematic strings and the narratives of the characters playing out their story. The concept of the album takes centre stage here and this is where it falters, sometimes sounding like the story was forced in after they had written a few solid songs for the record.
However, closing track, ‘Tomorrow’, with its upbeat and hopeful tone reminds us that “happiness is all around you, it doesn’t matter how you measure your wealth”. It is exactly what is needed to round off the record, a joyful reminder that no matter downtrodden things can be get is always hope for the future, a message which the band have been preaching their entire career.
With eleven albums and a spot as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, And Then You Shoot Your Cousin will serve as a great addition to their discography but probably won’t turn them into bigger stars than they already are now. It is definitely an original take on a story that has been done many times before, but it is the overall message is what sets it apart from others. Hopefully it will work as a reminder to the hip-hop community that positivity and live bands may be the way out of the stale rut that the genre seems to be stuck in.