The Roots Are Making a Very Complex Concept Album

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The Roots
WRITTEN BY
William Goodman

Late-night TV's coolest house band, the Roots, have unveiled details for their first concept album, undun, due December 6. According to the band's label, undun is the "existential re-telling of the short life of Redford Stephens (1974-1999)" and the album "seeks to illustrate the intersection of free will and prescribed destiny as it plays out 'on the corner.' " The disc's narrative will unravel in reverse, starting with Stephens disoriented (and dead). "As he moves through its pivotal moments he begins to deconstruct all that has led to his (and our own) coming undun."

So who is Redford Stephens? The band isn't exactly revealing that pivotal piece of information just yet. But drummer ?uestlove explains, "undun is the story of this kid who becomes criminal, but he wasn't born criminal." He adds, "He's not the nouveau exotic primitive bug-eyed gunrunner like Tupac's character Bishop in Juice... he's actually thoughtful and is neither victim nor hero. Just some kid who begins to order his world in a way that makes the most sense to him at a given moment ... at the end of the day ... isn't that what we all do?"

As far as the format, ?uest says, "We've been intentionally making our albums shorter in length so that they can be experienced as a continuous work. The music is band-oriented with an eye on the moody cinematic. As a DJ, I am the King of playlists, but I don't want our albums to feel like a playlist or a mixtape for that matter. We want to tell stories that work within the album format and we want the stories to be nuanced and useful to people."

In an interview with Billboard in June, ?uestlove said the group's follow-up to 2010's How I Got Over was "going to be heavy on orchestral chamber music with harder beats in it," a move inspired by a collaborative performance that the drummer did last April for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. "I did this project called the Philly-Paris Lockown, which was sort of a period of French music from Debussy to Satie and Stravinsky ... it was almost like the dawning of jazz in the early 1900s."

The album's first single, "Make My," featuring Big K.R.I.T., drops November 1 on iTunes, and the Roots will celebrate with gigs in New York City on November 29 and 30, as well as December 5.

undun track list:
1. "Sleep"
2. "Make My"
3. "One Time"
4. "Kool On"
5. "The Jump"
6. "Stomp"
7. "Lighthouse"
8. "I Remember"
9. "Tip the Scale"
10. "Redford"

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