The first I had ever heard of the Roots, and heard John Legend perform, was watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive on Comedy Central. I had no clue who they were, but I liked the music they played.
The next week, I asked a coworker about the Roots and he raved about them, said they were one of the best hip-hop groups to ever exist, so I downloaded their most recent album, How I Got Over, and fell in love instantly. Their instrumentation, work and collaboration with other musicians (including Connor Oberst), and Black Thought’s smooth rhymes make this group amazing. They largely have never experienced great commercial success, but are always around to back up other artists (you could hardly call it that; there’s just so much cross collaboration they could hardly be called “back-up.”). They are conscious as well, speaking up about issues not only in the black community, but in the world, and being honest about matters such as social justice and religion.
John Legend is someone I’m still learning about, as the album in question is the first one of his I’ve ever owned, but I can tell you right now he is a gifted performer. An R&B artist, Legend is also a big collaborator, always working with big name as well as independent artists, including the likes of the Roots, Andre 3000 of Outkast, and “controversial” (because of Fox News) rapper Common. Legend is also very fan-oriented, holding special private shows on different occasions to expose new artists and allow fans to hear new material. After these events, he personally greets every fan on the way out.
Not to mention, I wish I could sing like this guy. Seriously. He’s amazing.
Tying into the album they did together, both John Legend and the Roots qualify as conscious groups, speaking out against hatred, violence, poverty, and other issues. Their intellect shines through in their songwriting and musicianship, so if you’re one of those people who thinks R&B is just five black guys with no shirts, think again. They have no problem holding back about issues that speak to them and encouraging their listeners to stand up and care about the world around them. These guys are a huge asset to bringing peace in the world today.
So anyway, the album. Legend was inspired to write the album while campaigning for Barack Obama. It wasn’t intended to be more than an EP, but the more Legend and the Roots collaborated, the more it took off. They performed a lot of the songs at Jon Stewart’s rally in DC, and, listening to it now, I can tell you it’s one of my favorite albums to hear. Uplifting, encouraging, and challenging, I feel like I could fight injustice all day listening to this. The track “Our Generation,” a cover of an Ernie Hines song (most of the songs on the album are covers of old, obscure soul songs), is easily my favorite, along with “Little Ghetto Boy” and “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” (originally by Bill Withers). The title track is pretty awesome too, with moving guest performances from Common and Melanie Fiona.
Bottom line, this is a great album. Check it out. Here’s the title track.