The Roots + Gym Class Heroes + Estelle
Congress Theater; Fri 24
The Roots’ drummer and mastermind, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, espoused the notion that hip-hop improves during a social depression, as it did during the ’80s crack epidemic. But today, his logic seems inherently flawed: Hip-hop is light-years removed from its golden age, and as the Bush administration draws to a climactic close, the Philly crew has settled for far less than one would expect after hearing its ’99 masterpiece, Things Fall Apart.
Still, the band’s latest, Rising Down (Def Jam), cuts a stark portrait of city life, witnessed on tracks like the Afrobeat blazer “I Will Not Apologize” and the chilling R&B groove “Criminal.” Anchored by founding members Thompson and MC Black Thought, the outfit has long been renowned for its roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic, touring endlessly.
Live, the Roots stretch out, recalling their salad days of playing street corners with original bassist Josh Abrams (a mainstay of Chicago’s improvisational scene). Their current show features a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” led by guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas and new member Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson.
Fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Roots omitted the ill-conceived “Birthday Girl” from Rising. Featuring Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, the track was a desperate, syrupy bid for radio play. Now, unfortunately, the hardest-working band in hip-hop has dragged FOB hangers-on Gym Class Heroes on the road. The Vans Warped Tour staple just released its fourth album, The Quilt, on FOB bassist Pete Wentz’s label Decaydance. It might just as well be Fall Out Boy’s rap record (and that sounds awful even on paper), with Stump producing the majority.
To some relief, burgeoning diva Estelle kicks off the night. Despite her guest turn on GCH’s “Guilty as Charged,” the underappreciated R&B singer remains the finest England’s got on offer. If ?uestlove ever reassembles his neo-soul collective, the Soulquarians, Estelle would make a perfect transatlantic addition.