Their reputation as hip-hop’s best live act precedes them and their previous offering Phrenology was a creative monster. Since then The Roots have lost bassist Ben Kenney to rock stalwarts Incubus, and, unfortunately, it would seem that he has taken some of that trademark Roots innovation with him.
Expectations for The Tipping Point are understandably high – it is not for nothing that these Illadelphs have global respect in the music industry. Star/Pointro is an epic opener, combining some perfectly-selected sampling with Black Thought’s smooth flow and self-aware lyricism. Old school innovation soon takes a turn for the conventional, however, and whilst I Don’t Care is yards better than a considerable share of modern hip-hop, it is, at the same time, far from classic Roots: It’s a goal, but it should be a hat-trick.
Don’t Say Nuthin’ also seems to fall foul of complacency, sounding well within the abilities of any number of artists. I have to admit, the old creedo of “Expectancy always spoils a party” began to creep into my mind at this point.
But hey, this is The Roots! Relief gushed through me as ?uestlove’s tasty hi-hat punctuated the politically-driven Guns Are Drawn. It’s the first track to really sound like a jam session, and Stay Cool takes the funk balm to the next level (thanks to an utterly relaxing sample originally put to use by De La Soul).
Web, The Tipping Point’s sixth track, is The Roots at their bare-bones best, comprising of a minimal drum break and a three-minute lyrical onslaught from Black Thought. It’s an enviable, jaw-dropping performance that saves the album from the Wooden Spoon Award (which, when you consider the back-catalogue in question, isn’t even a particularly bad thing).
Boom! carries a similar torch with a somewhat richer backing, Somebody’s Gotta Do It is solid and smoothing without breaking into spectacular territory and Duck Down! deserves to be a big club hit, blending Roots brand credibility with a chart-minded attitude: By no means ground-breaking, but certainly enjoyable nonetheless.
Roots purists may be slightly disappointed by The Tipping Point. As far as I can gather, it may well be conscious effort to cash-in on a solid reputation for a bit of commercial recognition. That may sound suspiciously like the ominous cry of “Sell out!”, but it certainly is not – Tipping Point’s cuts are hip-hop of the very highest order, taking old school principles and stirring them into refined and omnispective lyrical flows.
The Tipping Point is entirely easy to absorb, and perhaps a little too easy in that sense. There is no great sense of reward in repeat listens, and the instrumental high-point comes in the form of a cover song (that being Booker T‘s Melting Pot, a UK-only bonus track). This may render the album, as such, the best way for Roots newcomers to delve into the Root catalogue. Hardcore Phrenolgists, however, may be tempted to turn a blind eye and allow the collective its moment of mainstream recognition.