Today, success in hip-hop is identified by a few years on the scene and a couple of well-known albums. For The Roots, it’s taken decades of shaping their craft, multiple top-selling albums, numerous changes in band mates and the opportunity to be a mainstay on late night television. And while many of today’s younger generation may know The Roots only as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” the band has been producing some of the most raw and honest hip-hop and R&B for over two decades. 2011’s release, Undun, is no exception.

Unlike most modern R&B records, Undun is not simply a collection of random songs; rather, it’s a truly dramatic story from start to finish. The album follows the story of the fictional Redford Stephens, who struggles with the choices that many urban youth face: work hard and get out of the ‘hood or follow the path of drugs, guns and money. Stephens struggles with spirituality, the after life and the karma that results from his decisions. Ultimately, the path he chooses leads to his death.

The album certainly distinguishes itself from other recent R&B records by combining their expected sounds of jazz, electronica, rock and hip-hop. Collaborations with southern hip-hop newbie Big K.R.I.T. and indie veteran Sufjan Stevens (among others) add a definite uniqueness to the tracks. Yet while the album could hardly be considered fusion music, The Roots successfully weave ethereal melodies, industrial sounds and symphonic chaos making Undun a highly interesting and truly delightful album to keep on repeat.

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