It has been three years since The Roots last studio album, Undun, and the crew chose to stick with the concept theme again for ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. Undun centered around one character, Redford Stevens, as we followed his last day in reverse order (meaning he dies at the beginning of the album, and he is alive at the end). The band has said that Redford is an amalgamation of personalities and stories that are familiar to those growing up in Philly and similar communities. The Roots used a singular character to make a broader commentary about the issues facing urban youths. While most have the potential to better their situation, most fall victim to bad decisions and circumstance.
...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is "conceptual" like Undun, but the similarities break apart from there. This is a shorter album (it is essentially an 8 track album). Keeping the album concise was on purpose. The Roots wanted the listener to be able to digest the rich sounds and lyrics found throughout the entire album. And while Undun focused on one character, this album provides multiple protagonists to weave a narrative. Most tracks are lyrically aggressive and the musical arrangements fall between aggressive and ominous. There is a more orchestral tone found throughout the album, at times to provide harmony with the emotion of the track and other times it seemed to purposefully create conflict within the track. The stories focus on personalities who fall under the stereotype of "street" dudes. All products of their environments but none able to see a legitimate way out.
I know I normally break down a few tracks for my reviews, but with The Roots I feel that plan of action would be a disservice. The fact that ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin will probably never go platinum (hope I'm wrong) is probably why I applaud The Roots so much. Even though their albums aren't bringing in Drake numbers, they still compose and assemble some of the best albums created in the past two decades. Maybe it is what keeps them hungry. I don't know. And they are by no means underground. Most people have heard of The Roots in some fashion (even if it's just as Jimmy Fallon's band). But if you go the suburbs or ask a 90's baby (is that thing?), they might be hard pressed to name their favorite Roots track. But going on their 11th studio album, we are reminded what great work is. The Roots always seem to be two steps ahead mentally. The thought and care given to how each track sounds individually and as a collective is brilliant. This should come as no surprise though, especially if you follow each (studio) albums track list. Flip the CD around and you see they kept the continuous numbering system, this album starts with track 171 and ends with track 181. Mind..blown.