Socialist Worker

The Roots: Rising Down - conscious hip-hop’s resurrection

by Adeola Johnson
Issue No. 2104

The cover of Rising Down

The cover of Rising Down


Watch us inside riots
Blue cars and light fires
We already been knocked
Scrutinized
Plus cops rush to brutalise us
America’s polluted by lust

The Roots, the polyrhythmic revolutionary rappers from Philadelphia, have released their latest album to coincide with the 16th anniversary of one of the biggest civil disturbances in US history – the LA Riots.

The rebellion followed the acquittal of police officers involved in a vicious attack on Rodney King.

Rising Down is full of a street Shakespearian understanding of the reality for black people in the ruins of the New World Order.

In the album’s more tragic moments suicide is suggested as an escape, but through the bulldozing beats of drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, rage overcomes defeat.

The Roots have always been known for their “conscious” style of hip-hop.

And this album brings together some of the genre’s most political artists, including Common, Saigon, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. ?uestlove says that this is “probably our most political album to date dealing with addiction, nihilism, hypocritical double standards in the prison system and overall life in Philadelphia.”

The group’s excursions into sound walk the path of jazz improvisation juxtaposed with folk melodies.

I predict that many accolades will be bestowed on these constantly touring musicians as they take the album on the road.

If I have a criticism it is that even in “conscious” hip‑hop we are faced with the relentless use of the N-word.

Last year the civil rights group the NAACP held mock funerals to bury a word whose historical connotations are so heinous.

Isn’t it time that hip-hop’s political vanguard moved to put an end to a term which merely echoes the abuse that many of us have spent our whole lives fighting?


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Tue 3 Jun 2008, 18:18 BST
Issue No. 2104
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