Music » CD Reviews

The Roots

Game Theory (Island/Def Jam)


No band has been more successful than the Roots at leveraging commercial endeavors to buy artistic freedom. As hip-hop's best live act, the Philadelphia collective has backed a host of mainstream stars; those gigs have given the band the cachet to cash in on its own adventurous recordings. None has traveled further afield than Game Theory: Not only is this not the mainstream breakthrough that hip-hop's most successful label may have desired; parts of it barely qualify as hip-hop. In an increasingly formulaic and inbred industry, that's a reason to celebrate.

Celebration, however, is a poor term to use about a disc this relentlessly dark. The restless "Don't Feel Right" is the first single and statement of intent; most tracks wander through a thicket of bass, guitar, and unsparing beats, with the voice of Black Thought giving anxious updates about a world and nation in turmoil, with no way out. Radiohead gets sampled on "Atonement," and the whole thing arrives as a 21st-century successor to There's a Riot Goin' On -- minus the drugs, but with Sly's inspired paranoia fully, sometimes intoxicatingly intact.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.