Review Summary: Undun: A Superb Music Journey Through a Life
Upon my first listen to Undun, I was floored. The album opens with an ambient work with no real structure, yet this quickly ends and introduces an obscure rap-soul combo called "Sleep." The lyrics are incredibly deep, and the instrumentation quirky and odd, yet it never feels too "out there" as Black Thought propels the song with lines such as "Oh, there I go, from a man to a memory, damn, I wonder if my fam will remember me..."
It is immediately clear that this will not be an ordinary rap album.
While 2010's How I Got Over was incredible, The Roots have hit their stride with Undun. The album is filled to the brim with incredible lyrics, brilliant collaborations, catchy choruses, all bound together with thumping rhythms and fabulous instrumentation. Songs such as "One Time" are the epitome of this blend, as a slightly complex piano line leads way to excellent rapping and a great chorus and melody throughout. "Kool On" sounds like Sly and the Family Stone were born again, with a modern twist. "Lighthouse" is a reverb-filled, catchy, piano-driven tune with perhaps the best vocals on the album. Every song seems to have a place, and while some are better than others, all fulfill a purpose. Yet, with the help of Sufjan Stevens, the Roots go even further with the final four tracks, which venture away from rapping and vocals altogether to usher in a suite of wonderful classical instrumentals.
The album seems much, much deeper than the average rap album, for this is clearly a concept album, and a dark one at that. Questlove decides to tell the story of a teenage boy who is commits suicide. However, the timeline of his life is flipped, as the album starts with the suicide in "Sleep" and ends with his birth in the classical pieces. Throughout listening, the listener feels a plethora of emotions, ranging from rage at the protagonist, to sympathy, from happiness, to sadness. Undun is no ordinary rap album, it is too good, too deep, too unconventional to be deemed merely "normal," instead the listener stands in awe at an exceptional, amazing concept album. Pick this one up, you will not be disappointed.