AHMIR "Questlove" Thompson is a hip-hop historian. He's also the drummer and bandleader of the Roots, who released their second consecutive concept album, " . . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin," yesterday.
Running just under 34 minutes, the album offers some eclectic soundscapes, many of which are piano-driven. From smoky, jazz-club piano ballads to driving funk-rap, the Roots' 16th album covers lots of musical ground, a reflection of Questlove's well-established propensity to drop thousands of dollars on old vinyls at the record store.
The album comes as a free-flowing follow-up to 2011's "Undun." But, unlike that record, which received critical acclaim for its social commentary told through the eyes of just one urban youth, " . . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin" offers multiple perspectives on similar themes of violence and poverty.
"We created some of these characters that we kind of see," Roots rapper Black Thought told XXL magazine in February. "We as artists, musicians, Philadelphians, New Yorkers, we as black men."
Other band members are keyboardist Kamal Grey, guitarist "Captain" Kirk Douglas, bassist Mark Kelley and Damon Bryson, a/k/a "Tuba Gooding Jr.," who can be seen playing the sousaphone along with the rest of the Roots on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."
On the song "The Unraveling," one of the album's featured guests, Raheem DeVaughn, repeats the refrain, "A man with no future . . . ," falling in line with the ominous nature of the lyrics in previous tracks.
Between songs, sounds of church hymns and synthesized dissonance reinforce a religious quandary that's first introduced in "When the People Cheer." In the chorus, featured vocalist Patty Crash sings, "Everybody acts like God is all that/but I got the feeling he ain't never coming back."
In the XXL interview, Black Thought recommended listening to the album a few times to unearth some of the nuances that may not jump out at first.
"It's short enough to digest, but it's gonna be dense," he said. "There's very many layers to this record, but it doesn't take place over very much time."
". . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin" is experimental by all modern hip-hop standards and has been received fairly well by critics. Most reviewers have given it three to four stars out of five.
Early yesterday morning, Questlove posted a picture of iTunes' top 10 albums on his Instagram account, with " . . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin" sitting at No. 1.