LISTEN LIKE THIEVES: The Roots Undun NPR: “And what I did came back to me eventually,” narrator Redford Stephens, transcendently portrayed by Black Thought, posthumously intones in “Sleep,” the first track from The Roots’ 13th album undun. Death pervades undun; it follows Stephens, a poor kid from Philadelphia and victim to the drug trade, from the moment he surrenders himself to the game all the way to his inevitable end. Along the way, no verse is wasted, no optimism is spared; each line is like a shovelful of dirt on Redford’s coffin. At 39 minutes, undun feels like a lifetime, because it is one. […] The album ends with a short suite of pieces based on Sufjan Stevens’ instrumental “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” from his album Michigan; it even features the composer on piano. The ghostly backup vocals and muted horns perfectly match undun’s spectral artfulness. Brilliantly, instead of transforming “Redford” into a functional sample, it’s presented in state. ?uestlove treats “Redford” almost like a piece of movie music, accompanying the action rather than recapitulating it. The result is a cinematic moment waiting to be processed, fictionalized into hip-hop. It’s as if the listener zoomed in beyond the safe narrative distance of the song and actually ended up in the movie. This movement of the suite is like a rap track under a microscope, the sample blown up so large that the beats that keep hip-hop as the frame of reference are a horizon enshrouded in fog. By the third act, Stephens has been replaced by DD Jackson in a careening duet with ?uestlove, whose long-cultivated drumming heft and precision play like fists through a plaster wall or bullet holes through a car door. Finally, credits roll over a sublime string quartet, mercifully for Black Thought’s black thoughts — at least for a moment, before ?uestlove’s meticulously arranged strings are silenced by the chilling, deathly growl of a struck piano. MORE

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