The Roots' "Undun": A Soundtrack Without the Movie

The Roots' "Undun": A Soundtrack Without the Movie

Is your music boring?  Do the songs on your albums seem like they have no correlation to one another? What you need is a good concept album, something with a theme throughout.  I have just the answer for you: The Roots' "Undun" album.

Lots of artists have themes to their albums, broken hearts being a popular theme.  But The Roots go a different direction.  They refer to "Undun" as "a soundtrack without the movie".  The songs are interesting on their own, but knowing the concept makes it more interesting.

The concept is that a 25 year old black man, Redford Stephens, has just died (which explains the flatline sound in the first track).  Each song is a first-person retrospective "picture" from his life, all of which culminates in his death, largely the result of numerous bad decisions and wrong paths taken.  Through the songs, we get to know Redford and what he was about.  In "Make My", he talks about the lure of money ("they told me that the ends would justify the means").  In "The Other Side," he continues that theme ("Make it to the other side, that's when we'll settle up the score").  "Tip the Scale" is the last song that has lyrics and talks about how he spent his life just trying to give himself an advantage.  The last four tracks are solely instrumental.

But wait- there's more!  If you feel like you don't know Redford well enough from listening to the songs, you can get the free "Undun" app for your smart phone.  The app features "interviews" with those who knew Redford- teachers, friends, an aunt. 

If it all sounds kind of contrived and a lot of work just to listen to an album, you can definitely enjoy the music on its own because the songs are very good.  However, I've been fascinated by how invested I've become in this ficitonal character, and at 38 minutes the investment isn't too steep.  "A soundtrack with the movie" is the perfect description of "Undun".

You might know The Roots as the house band on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."  I follow ?uestlove, The Roots' dummer and one of its founding members, on Twitter and he's pretty political and quite intelligent.  I watched an interview with a couple band members on their website, and their exposure on "Late Night" has given them access to a whole new audience.

Fun story about The Roots and "Late Night": Recently when Michelle Bachmann was a guest, The Roots played the song "Lyin' Ass Bitch" as she walked on stage.  Despite the fact that they didn't sing the lyrics, word quickly spread about what the song was.  Let's just say that The Roots now have to submit all their songs to NBC executives in advance for approval.

Here is a compilation of a number of videos from "Undun" songs- it will help you get a jump start on learning all about Redford.  Enjoy!

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