The Roots, The Tipping Point

The Roots, The Tipping Point (2004)

Did you know the Roots want to be stars, too? On “Star,” Black Thought looks skeptically on the young thugs flooding the rap scene, noting, “Like everybody he wanna shine/Young brothers on the grind/Holding something in they spine/Bowling for Columbine.” But then he claims, “To all my peoples the stars it is our time to shine.” In fact, nearly every song — barring “Guns Are Drawn,” which criticizes the Bush administration’s war on terror — notes how the group is teetering on the edge of full-fledged superstardom (just like Jadakiss’s Kiss of Death … is this a trend?). Over 10 numbers (and two hidden tracks), this obsession becomes monomaniacal, eventually overshadowing Black Thought’s unpredictable freestyles; bassist Hub and keyboardist Kamal’s eerily minimalist performances; and The Tipping Point‘s magnificent bare-bones sound, cobbled together by a fleet of producers. The Roots may be masters of many styles, from scintillating hip-pop (“Don’t Say Nothin'”) to futuristic dub (“Guns Are Drawn”), but they aren’t known for subtlety. Their rhetorical points are delivered with dramatic force, painting a portrait of how pursuing mainstream fame can become an all-consuming, all-corrupting passion. Like most challenging, thought-provoking albums, The Tipping Point is an experience, making it difficult to throw down a thunder index that will command listeners to embrace it or dis it. But the last listed track on The Tipping Point, “Why (What’s Goin’ On?),” is a melancholy end to an engaging and occasionally intense journey. At the outset, it’s a lament about the state of the world as guest vocalist Latif sadly repeats the word “why” over and over again. But by the third verse, Black Thought turns on himself. “Somehow I gotta decide how much I want it,” he says, adding “If I disappear I wonder if the world will know I’m missin’.” Consolation only comes at the very end: “Gotta show ’em we can make it.” Despite its aforementioned charms, The Tipping Point is one of the Roots’ least successful efforts, though one of its singles, the Sly & the Family Stone interpolation “Star,” remains a highlight of their career. Guests include Devin the Dude, who turns in an inspired chorus on “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” Various producers handled the tracks, including Scott Storch, an early member of the Roots who left the group in the early 1990s to become a protege of Dr. Dre and, by the early 2000s, a hugely successful urban producer (before a public battle with cocaine addiction ruined his career). He tried to repay the Roots’ early support by producing the lead single, “Don’t Say Nuthin’,” but despite heavy promotion it was a failure on the charts. The title of the album is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s marketing/self-help treatise The Tipping Point. Geffen.

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