After seven studio albums, the Roots are embracing their awkwardness on “Rising Down,” according to drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson. Despite a decade of critical acclaim, the Philadelphia hip-hop collective has never sold more than 906,000 units of any album. The Roots also continue to stand out among the flashier hitmakers at Def Jam, to which they signed in 2006 after stints with MCA and Geffen.
“We’ve tried the radio songs, with ‘Break You Off’ and ‘Don’t Say Nothing,’ and we’ve got sh*t for those songs,” Thompson says. In an effort to please Def Jam executives with a radio single, Thompson says the group presented the pop-leaning “Birthday Girl” featuring Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. Label staffers praised the track, but fans panned it on the Roots’ Okayplayer.com Web hub. As a result, “Birthday Girl” was relegated to an iTunes-only release and stripped from the U.S. version of the album.
Ultimately, the track doesn’t sync with the dark chords of “Rising Down.” Songs like “The Show” featuring Common and “I Will Not Apologize” featuring Talib Kweli, Porn and Dice Raw convey the group’s sober tone via organ melodies, snaking drums and indignant lyrics. To boot, the set is book-ended by a 1994 conversation where the members vent their frustration about not garnering the attention they expected from MCA.
“At a time, it was safe to be the Roots,” Thompson says. “Now as each album goes by, the risk of annihilation becomes closer and closer. That’s why this album is almost our defining moment.”