1)Star/Pointro by The Roots featuring Wadud Ahmad
Set over a looping sample of Sly's hit, "Everybody is a Star, "Star" epitomizes the two best qualities of any Roots track: optimistic lyricism and a jazzy beat. Their particular message on this track reassures the audience that they too are important. Stars of the same magnitude as The Roots? Probably not, but everyone's still special in their own way and should be themselves (now where have I heard that before?).
So the message is cliched...but the song is immaculate. Black Thought's introspective lyrics and ?uest's jazzy cymbals are perfectly matched, while the Family sample is top notch (Sly's R&B tone is reshaped into a jazz ballad). If you stick around for the rest of the album you may be a bit disappointed. Songs like "Don't Say Nuthin'" (which actually says just about nothing) and "Guns Drawn" (which might sample NBA Jam Tournament Edition '94) aren't great lyrically, but beg to be blasted obnoxiously out of car windows. On the other hand, songs like "Stay Cool" and "Boom" are worth skipping entirely. Anyhow, make your way through this album and ask yourself whether The Roots still are, in the immortal words of David Brotman, "just that good!"
The Tipping Point (2004)- Part 1
The Tipping Point (2004)- Part 2
2)Thought Process by Goodie Mob featuring Andre 3000
Holy Shit!!! I can't believe I've been sleeping on the Goodie Mob for this long. This Atlanta quartet (often paired with Outkast and other Dungeon Family members), featuring a young and presumably less rotund Cee-Lo, Khujo, Big Gipp, and T-Mo, absolutely kills it on their debut, Soul Food (1995). The most notable theme on this album is spirituality. So much so, that for moments (especially when backing tracks drop out) the soulful recitations make you wonder how this collective could have remained largely an underground sensation. As far as conscious rap goes, this is A-one.
On "Thought Process", the crew, along with Andre 3000, describe the stress of poverty and the importance of prayer in pushing on. Here Cee-Lo has the best verse, rasping, "I wanna lie to you sometimes, but I can't/ I wanna tell you that it's all good, but it ain't/ It's nigga's hurtin' and uncertain 'bout if they gon' make it or not". Only a hair less powerful is 3000's signature stream-of-consciousness verse, which crests as the beat fades out and the rest of the group is heard clapping to keep the a capella rhythm.
Soul Food (1995)