In this post-Internet age of cross-platform synergy as condo down-payment survival, the Roots have flourished. There is the band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, an incredible sight for anyone who remembers how the Fugees swacked them back in 1995. There is the annual Roots picnic; the Starbucks-friendly Wise Up Ghost And Other Songs with Elvis Costello; the festival appearances with guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas shredding up “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” And yes, there is Questlove, the genial Paul Shaffer to Jimmy Fallon’s twee Letterman, and one of the new millennium’s great bon vivants, tweeting and posting selfies on Instagram about his celebrity friends (lots of Prince shout-outs) and his epicurean adventures with impressive gregariousness. His best-selling book, Mo Meta Blues, displays the same kind of intellectual curiosity as he weaves anecdotes about meeting Kiss and making viral videos with Dirty Projectors into an entertaining autobiographical tale. If only he could extend that same generosity and love of pop in all its cheesy shamelessness and gewgaw wonder to his band’s recordings and, more importantly, to the hip-hop culture that he claims fealty to, instead of frequently taking it out to the woodshed, most recently via his damningly titled “How Hip-Hop Failed Black America” lectures for Vulture.com.
Recently released U.K. film Ill Manors is an orgy of heroin shooting galleries, illegal immigrant women enslaved by Russian mobsters, a young bwoy doing his first murders, a cracked-out prostitute pimped for a cell phone, and an infant baby sold for cash and, in a climactic scene, thrown out an apartment window. What caused all this madness? These lost souls are products of broken homes and refugees of foster care. What they need, apparently, are responsible mummies and daddies.
Rapper/producer Ben Drew not only directed and wrote the screenplay for this East London council estate drama, but recorded its soundtrack under his alias, Plan B. Despite achieving two No. 1 albums in his native Britain (including this one), he hasn’t inspired the sort of American cult following that Mike “the Streets” Skinner engendered with his 2002 debut, Original Pirate Material. Skinner was as much a satirist as social commentator, evinced by the idle-youth anthem “Geezers Need Excitement”; by comparison, Plan B is deadly serious. On “Sick 2 Def” from the 2006 grime compilation Run the Road II, he banged on an acoustic guitar while angrily rhyming that he’s “Had it up to here, had it up to here / I’m hafta do it Reservoir Dog-style, slice off their ear.” For his second album, 2010’s The Defamation of Strickland Banks, he adopted a soul-boy persona, singing in a light, wavering croon about an obsessed fan who falsely accuses him of rape after a one-night stand.