Posted this on reddit a while back hoping for discussion, but didn't really get much. Thought maybe you guys would enjoy:
- From its opening track, a full 90-second sample of R&B vocalist Nina Simone, to the sparse 33-minute runtime, it's clear The Roots' …and then you shoot your cousin is unlike any other album they've released. It's been described by Roots MC Black Thought as a concept album satirizing violence in hip-hop and American society; the fact that it's a concept album certainly isn't unique within the Roots catalog, but its unusually prominent influences from other genres represent a departure from the more traditional hip-hop of The Roots' earlier work, and arguably from hip-hop entirely. This dark aesthetic is largely the result of the record's juxtaposition of smooth vocals and dissonant instrumentals. Its inclusion of both melodic, “nice” singing and gritty, rough instrumentals results in a deeply depressing sound. These clean vocals draw attention to the raw emotion in the instrumentals, and the contrast is further enhanced by maintaining a distinct separation between the two elements. While it's true that both elements are present in some tracks, they're generally in distinct movements of the songs, and the inclusion of tracks like Theme From Middle Of The Night which are totally dedicated to one or the other maintains the separation. The uncommonly dissonant qualities of this album are reminiscent of The Roots' earlier work – they've been boundary-pushers since ?uestlove and Black Thought first played together in high school.
The content of the lyrics further enhances this musical darkness: ...and then you shoot your cousin is chock-full of modernist examinations of life and hip-hop. Black Thought's description of life in Never, for example, reveals an incredibly bleak world view: “waiting on superman […] this is reality, man.”
In addition, the verses form a social critique of capitalism's effects on hip-hop. One is reminded of drummer ?uestlove's recent multi-part essay entitled “How Hip-Hop Failed Black America.” ...and then you shoot your cousin draws attention to both the violence and sexualization in the hip-hop community fuelled by nothing more than a desire to make money. The album title draws attention to the violence surrounding hip-hop and in the communities where it originated, and Greg Porn's opening lines in When The People Cheer emerge as a clear condemnation of hip-hop's glorification of sex. This glorification results in unreasonable standards of beauty for women, which leads to his character's attraction to “a body of lies.”
But when it comes to this record, one ought perhaps to pay more attention to the relative lack of verses than to their content. Notably, it only contains 10 verses: a surprisingly low number for a record by a hip-hop band. In addition, 3 of the 11 tracks are credited not to The Roots, but to different artists entirely – artists from genres other than hip-hop. All 3 artists (and Mercedes Martinez, who is featured in The Coming) have strong backgrounds in jazz.
As a result, this album represents a departure from the pure(r) hip-hop of The Roots' earlier work (although they've always aimed to push boundaries). The opening, Theme From Middle Of The Night, is listed as an R&B track (rather than “Rap & Hip-Hop”), and the fourth track The Devil blends classical vocals with brief doo-wop interludes. Clearly, ...and then you shoot your cousin demands to be analyzed in the context of art as a whole, or at least just music, rather than through the lens of a hip-hop album. The Roots' clear attempt to distance themselves from hip-hop on this record allows it to exist as a more objective critique of hip-hop culture.