#shfl11: The Roots – The Return To Innocence Lost

They say that the new year is a time to take stock and so I thought I’d take stock of my iTunes library. As of today it stands at nearly 15,000 songs and I’m increasing it every month by buying (yes, I still buy music) about 4-6 albums. More music than I’m ever likely to listen to, unless I listened to my iPod for nearly 2 months straight, so how to find those random moments of brilliance? Well, I’ve decided to set my iPod to shuffle every day in 2011 and write about what I find. Hopefully it will prove interesting, for me if no-one else.

First up is The Return To Innocence Lost by The Roots. It’s the closing track from their amazing Things Fall Apart album, and almost perfectly encapsulates their brilliance, as well the biggest problem with the band.

It features Ursula Rucker, a ‘spoken word recording artist’ (according to wikipedia), doing what she does best: gently reciting poetry over abstract beats. In fact, in this case the beats are almost totally non-existent, and the backing track consist of almost nothing other than discordant notes, which only add to the haunting nature of the track, in which she eloquently tells the story of an abusive relationship. Hip Hop Hooray it aint.

By their own admission The Roots’ audience has often consisted of nothing more than ‘coffee shop chicks and white dudes‘ and this track shows why: Rucker may be an amazing artist, and certainly she was a big favourite of my idol Gilles Peterson in the early noughties, but she’s not exactly likely to broaden The Roots reach. And whilst that shouldn’t matter, I tend to think it does.

Because The Roots’ most recent outing was with John Legend for the album Wake Up, where they revisit classic protest soul of the 70s in an attempt to reinvigorate the youth-driven movement that brought Obama to the White House. And whilst it’s a worthy effort, and a great album (if you like protest soul, The Roots or John Legend, which I do), it’s really not going to reach the people who actually need to be energised. Instead it will likely be bought by, you guessed it, coffee shop chicks and white dudes. And, if nothing else, I’d argue that Common, who guests on a couple of the tracks on Wake Up, has been doing a great job for the last few years reinventing protest soul, as opposed to just recreating it.

So whilst I love The Roots, and admire Ursula Rucker, I kind of wish this track had sounded a little less self-righteous, and little more like something that would enable them to broaden their reach, without actually becoming The Black Eyed Peas.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Roots by Stephen Bowler on flickr

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