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December 06, 2011 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily - michiganclaily.com

Tuesday, December 6, 2011- 7

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 7

Cracking into classical

"We're waiting for Jimmy. He's always late."
Deep, soulful Roots

Hip-hop band
hardly 'undun' on
newest release
Daily Arts Writer
The Roots have inspired
intrigue among the hip-hop
and neo-soul congregations for
more than
two decades
through their
masterful use The Roots
of live music
- something undun
nearly extinct Def Jam
in rap - and the
gritty, realistic
scenes they've come to be known
for. On their latest album, undun,
these qualities are on display for
all to see, channeling the sorrow
and fight for survival that can
only be found in the U.S.'s under-
Telling the fictional story of
Redford Stephens, a repentant
drug dealer trapped in the hustle,
undun is a concept album evoca-
tive enough to transport any lis-
tener, whether from Compton or
Ann Arbor, into the hard-nosed
life of an inner-city pusher.
The Philadelphia-bred Roots
are the brainchild of Ahmir
"?uestlove" Thompson and Tariq
"Black Thought" Trotter. Though
there has been a revolving door
of members, the two founders
embody the bold creativity and
incisive commentary The Roots
are famous for. Never a group to
fall into tired rap "gangsters and
Glocks" tropes, they have made

a profitable and prolific career
without having to cater to the
lowest common denominator.
Rather, The Roots hang their hats
on intelligent songs that chron-
icle the all-too-real struggle
occurring everyday in inner cit-
ies across the U.S. and the world.
What makes the already-phe-
nomenal undun even more admi-
rable is the timeframe in which
The Roots created it. Over the
past two years, their visibility has
increased exponentially by play-
ing weekly shows in New York
City, being Jimmy Fallon's house
band and using their late night
platform to imply that Michele
Bachmann is a "lyin' ass bitch."
But instead of taking the easy
way out and cashing in on their
surging exposure, they remained
true to their roots (pun definitely
intended) and crafted a delicate
portrait of a desperate man on the
fringes of society.
What often gets lost when
discussing inner-city crime is
that criminals are not simply
statistics, but living, breathing
humans, and that's precisely
the message.the Roots somberly
convey in every track. Trac-
ing the life of the ill-fated Ste-
phens's drug pedaling career,
undun is unorthodox in that it
travels backward. The opening
instrumental track, "Dun," acts
as Stephens's death rattle and is
followed by "Sleep," a dying mes-
sage replete with haunting, music
box-esque instrumentals and
regretful lyrics.
The meat of the album is com-
prised of expansive, foreboding
gems that flow into each other
seamlessly, though the entire

timeline is backward. On "Make
My," Stephens sees the follies of
his ways, admitting, "they told
me the ends / won't justify the
means" over a funky, bass-driven
beat. He's the perfect example of
an antihero, at least in his own
eyes, as it seems he had no choice
but to plunder, pillage and kill
on the streets. Though the life
of Redford Stephens follows the
familiar murder-by-numbers
outline that anyone who has ever
watched "Boyz 'N the Hood"
knows by heart, The Roots are
able to puta human face on what
is usually nameless.
Curiously, the most fasci-
nating tracks on undun are the
last four, which are all instru-
mentals. Each one represents
a different aspect of Stephens's
pre-crime years, and with names
like "Possibility" and "Finality,"
the vagueness inspires reflection
and helps to humanize the out-
law world of drug dealing. There
is no glorification of violence or
vice here, just a reminder that at
one point, even the most ruthless
criminal had a soul.
. Redford Stephens's sorrow
is palpable and capable of mak-
ing listeners pray for the fic-
tional man's soul. Undoubtedly,
he made a host of bad choices
and his self-aware ruminations
about people he hurt may be
nothing more than a save-my-
soul deathbed conversion, but it's
hard not to feel for the guy. Even
more striking though, is that The
Roots are able to evoke such emo-
tion for a character whose life is
contained within a 40-minute
album. That is what makes undun
a transcendent rap album.

It's that time of year again
when I start chewing my
nails and stop caring about
what I look like when I leave
my room.
For me, the
gap between
break and our
winter siesta
is undoubt-
edly the worst
three weeks LAUREN
of the entire CASERTA
year, and Fall
2011 has cer-
tainly delivered.
It's one of those days that has
been scheduled down to the
hour. AsI curl myself into the
fetal position while perched on
my computer chair, I realize my
overworked brain needs a little
time to sit back and lose itself
before beginning the grind all
over again. I've been told that
Christmas is sometime in the
near future, so only the Kirov
Orchestra's rendition of Tchai-
kovsky's "The Nutcracker" will
But heck, who am Ikidding?
Classical music is a subject I've
always tried to avoid bring-
ing up in my columns since
people tend to have entrenched
opinions regarding this often-
ridiculed art form. You either
already listen to it or avoid it
like the plague.
I understand. Classical music
gets a terrible rap nowadays, and
hearing about classical music
before you actually geta chance
to hear it ends up sabotaging the
process that allows a person to
truly appreciate the work of a
good composer.
And don't get me wrong
- some classical music is
downright boring for the aver-
age on-the-go student, and I
wouldn't expect much of a work-
out were you to powerwalk to
the dulcet tones of Beethoven's
"Moonlight Sonata." Slower sym-
phonies were simply not built for

the aver
who wa
of their:
long pac
But a
cal mus
worth t
if you're
a while,
weeks o
lenge yo
a listen.
I alw
people I
"The Ni
may not
know. S
Reed Pi
has ever
ment st:
their w
these ha
part ofc
dejh vuj
who ma
tion bet
know sa
the icon
"The Ni
you're w
swept a
the mus
Music li
to perm

'age antsy pop listener, all of my homework playlists -
nts the entire duration Maroon 5 can blare through my
musical experience to be headphones through all 12 pages
ked into a three-minute of my latest essay, but a battle
cket of dance-tastic, between the Nutcracker and the
ve sound. Mouse King demands that I sit
dding a bit of classi- back in my chair, close my eyes
ic to your collection is and enjoy.
he extra megabytes, and One of my most embarrassing
looking to escape for memories as a young and awk-
during these last few ward classical music aficionado
f brain pain, then I chal- occurred when I listened to
u to give this soundtrack my beat-up copy of "The Nut-
cracker" on my clunky Walk-
ays enjoy watching man asI took the middle school
isten to the music of bus home. I would hide in the
utcracker," a ballet they very back seats, closing my eyes
know they already and swaying as the crescendos
ongs like "Waltz of the of the "Pas de deux: Intrada"
" and "Dance of the swelled to a rich and thunder-
pes" are staple classical ous roar. Iwill never forget the
s familiar to anyone who moment when the bus driver
r ventured into a depart- found me oblivious in my seat
ore or endured television after noticing she had an extra
ements. passenger when returning to
the bus garage.
While my experience may
ls have been humiliating, it high-
eyour lights a crucial characteristic of
's and dance classical music: It can only be
fully enjoyed when a passive lis-
vn the aisles tener agrees to become an active
participant in the experience.
of Sears. The more effort you put into lis-
tening, the more fully developed
the story becomes, as it's woven
bar by bar.
e people may not know This story within a song sets
orking names, songs like the classical genre apart from
ave become a permanent music today. Without words to
our unconscious musical convey ambiguous emotions and
y, leading to inevitable actions, music has to shape a
moments for listeners tale that develops much like the
ike the sudden connec- plot of a movie. And just likea
ween the music they movie, you can't tune in for a few
swell and its place within minutes only to become frus-
ic "The Nutcracker." trated when events don't play out
as with all truly great within the span of a few minutes.
itions, Tchaikovsky's Classical music is an investment
utcracker" is a drop- of time and imagination, one
ing-and-listen affair. If that rewards commitment with
Killing to let yourself be a truly one-of-a-kind journey
way for the story, then across the auditory imagination.

ic will happily oblige.
ike this paintssuch vivid
pictures for me that I had
anently remove it from

;Caserta is.gstcgasugarplum
daydream. To wake her,
e-mail caserta@umich.edu.

Generations of explicit hip hop

'Lioness' legend lives on

Daily Arts Writer
This past July, lovers of poi-
gnant heart-and-soul blues
received the devastating news
that their
beloved pop ***
heroine, Amy
Winehouse, Amy
died from Winehouse
tal alcohol Lioness: Hidden
poisoning, Treasures
ly leaving Island
. ies and ears void of new music
from the troubled songstress.
Fast forward barely five
months, and Winehouse's foun-
dation has released a posthu-
mous album in her honor. Mark
Ronson and Salaam Remi,
Winehouse's longtime pro-
ducers, along with her family,
combed through hours of cut-
ting room floor audio and hand-
picked unreleased recordings
and alternate versions of her
popular tunes, culminating in
Lioness: Hidden Treasures. The
album fully spans her career,
with tracks ranging from 2002
to 2011. But while Lioness will
satisfy anyone's Winehouse
craving, it doesn't provide any
groundbreaking material.
On "Our Day Will Come,"
a cover of the 1963 original by
Ruby and the Romantics and
the album's opener, listeners are
immediately greeted with the
familiar brass-grazed groove
that has become Winehouse's
signature. It's an uplifting start,
as she confidently croons, "No

one can tell me / that I'm too
young to know / I love you so."
"Tears Dry," the original ver-
sion of one of Winehouse's big-
gest hits, "Tears Dry On Their
own," finds the familiar song
in a decidedly darker, more AMY
insightful direction. It takes her DUNs
to the more deeply sweeping, I A&JREs
less bouncy side of Motown, and
it's a welcome change.
An alternate recording
of Mark Ronson's "Valerie"

but it
wise a
In this
riffs a:
was pe
and the
the oth
and s
voice s
in com

ement lacks the punchy, difficult to listen to because her
sive drive of his version, decay is clearly audible.
spotlights Winehouse's In some sense, the closing
ability to make an other- track, "A Song For You," really
verage song worthwhile. does sound like an ultimate
s track, her voice almost finale. Of course, most listen-
gorgeously adrift as it ers will layer this album with
rs up and down the scales, an extra dose of sorrow, the
bly evoking a predictable bones of which are undoubtedly
hor for the singer's life. already in the music. Certainly,
that was a pointed decision on
the part of Ronson and Remi.
[rul AIt's only human to listen to the
J'songs with the added emotion of
.ck by track. Winehouse's tragic death.
Ronson and Remi are
unmatched in their ability to
perfect the contrast between
ehouse drawls her way squeaky clean instrumentation
h "Halftime," soaking the and Winehouse's smoky brogue
with her pathos-inducing - really, with almost any other
nd slides. This one, along production style (and less skill),
another of the album's her performances would sound
"Best Friends, Right?," sloppy. They should be applauded
nned solely by Winehouse for their body of collaborations,
e two are more subtle than and the success of their relation-
ers. ship with Winehouse is wholly
dy & Soul," a recently apparent on this collection.
d track from Tony Ben- Lioness: Hidden Treasures is
Duets II, is sentimental an album that might leave hearts
weet, but Winehouse's more aching than ever. But on
ounds drastically inferior the other hand, it's just enough
parison to the other, ear- to fill the beehive-shaped hole in
corded tracks. It's almost fans' hearts.

Daily Arts Writer
It's the beginning of theholiday
season yet again, and withit comes
the slew of magical moments we
look forward to every year: Car-
bo-loading with sweet potatoes,
casseroles and assorted flavors
of pie. All day marathons of "The
Real Housewives of New Jersey"
and other Bravo reality favorites.
Never-ending hunts for the one
burned-outbulb keepinganentire
strand of Christmas lights from
Oh, and getting flak from fami-
ly members when you're home for
winter break - especially about
your taste in music.
At least, that's what happens
at my house. Every time I play
hip hop in front of my older rela-
tives - be it when I'm washing
Thanksgiving dishes or cleaning
the house for a Christmas party
- theyuse it as an opportunity for
criticism, commenting on what
"kids listen to these days" and the
collapse of our culture's values.
It becomes a war between gen-
erations, and I struggle to defend
young people everywhere. After
years of enduring these battles,
I've heard it all: Every rapper is
sexist. The only thing rappers
care about is "getting hoes" and
money. Hip hop in general is more
shallow and offensive than it ever
was in the past.
It's usually a hopeless fight.
After all, it takes a lot of courage
to tell someone as lovable (and as
good at cooking) as my mom that
she's wrong. Still, not even the
loudest Waka Flocka Flame song
can quiet the argument brew-
ing in my head: Today's hip hop
doesn't suck any more than it did
when my parents were kids.
Let's face it - listening to rap in
the company of family members
is rarely a positive experience.
Adults just have an uncanny abil-
ity to drain this genre of its joy, as
they make it less about articula-
tion and rhythm and more about
the moral implications of Ludac-
ris's sex life. What parents over-
look, however, is how graphic

their music was, even when they
remember itbeing harmless.
Take, for instance, Sugarhill
Gang's "Rapper's Delight." Sure,
the late '70s gem is dressed up
with a barrage of "boogies" and
exclamatory "oh yeah!"s, but
it still contains the controver-
sial themes found in today's rap
music. ' The song thoroughly
covers the importance of hotel
parties, strategies for picking
up women and why the gang is
better than every other rapper
out there - for 14 entire min-
utes. Some of the lines are just
as shocking as your average Lil
Wayne single, as they boast about
having "super sperm" and sleep-
ing with their ladies' friends as
soon as they start "actin' up."
Arrogant? Check. Sexist?You bet.
But the obscenities don't stop
there - they just keep rolling
through the decades. Your mind
doesn't have to be wedged in a
gutter to pick up on the sexual
tones in the 1986 song "Push It,"
as Salt-N-Pepa supplies listeners
with enough breathy vocals and
"Ooh baby"s to nourish a late-
night Pay-Per-View purchase.
LL Cool J's "Big Ole Butt" is even
crasser - yes, the lyrics are as
literal as the title suggests. And
when was the last time you lis-
tened to N.W.A. without hearing
some sort of reference to domestic
or gang violence?
Even the rapper-turned-rever-
end Joseph Simmons's lyrics are

N.W.A. went 'Straight Outta Compton' and straight into the suburbs.

far from pious: Run-DMC songs
like "Dumb Girl" quake with the
same sexual and misogynistic
undertones found in today's Top
40. The premise of the song is
simple, as the rappers viciously
condemn a girl for being too easy.
They call her a "stupid sex fiend
with no willpower" and criticize
her active nightlife - word on the
street is that she's "always sniffin'
or givin' somebody ablow."
Just Don't
Sorry, Mom and Dad, but your
music just isn't appropriate to play
at the dinner table.
Don't be fooled by this super-
ficial boldness, though. I'd never
actually use this as ammo in argu-
ments with my parents, especially
with the month of presents and
free laundry service drawing
near. I've accepted the awkward
friction between our music as
something young people have
endured since the beginning of
time - or more specifically, since
Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me" first
played in our family's car on the
way to the Christmas tree lot 10
years ago. Now that's a holiday
memory worth forgetting.

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