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The Roots

Rising Down (Island/Def Jam)

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Rising Down is an appropriate title for the Roots' eighth album. Coming off Game Theory, 2006's miracle of soundscaping, Rising Down sounds like the Philadelphia hip-hop crew's weakest record. There are some genuine beats here, but keepers like the spare, slamming posse cut "Get Busy" and the old-school freestyle spit by then-15-year-old Black Thought eventually give way to a back half-stuffed with too many guest rhymers, trippy guitar jams, and curiously indistinct songs.

It doesn't help that the Roots are touting Rising Down as both their tough-guy and smart-guy moves. Digging deep for radical political insight, all they can muster is the usual bemoaning about being treated like criminals. Still, Black Thought's flow remains razor-sharp, even when he's slicing through the superficial rhymes. And the bass hooks bob and weave in highlights like the Fela Kuti tribute and "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)," a nonstop freestyle featuring the excellently named Tuba Gooding Jr.

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