By Jesse Serwer
As deans of the college touring circuit and the house band for Jimmy Fallon, the Roots probably spend more time around indie rockers than rappers these days. It shows on "How I Got Over," the artiest in a string of moody, noncommercial albums that the Philadelphia hip-hop institution has squeezed out through the otherwise conservative Def Jam Recordings in recent years.
It's not frontman Black Thought or bandleader Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson's drum kit but Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle - the trio of female singers from the Dirty Projectors' "Bitte Orca" - who set the LP's tone with the predominantly a cappella intro, "A Peace of Light."
"Dear God 2.0" and "Right On" reinterpret similarly named songs by indie supergroup Monsters of Folk and harpist/singer Joanna Newsom, respectively (both are credited as guests, although the songs merely sample them). And Dice Raw, part of the coterie of the Philly MCs with part-time Roots membership, does double duty as a scrappy, endearingly flawed singer.
Not that "How I Got Over," ostensibly a meditation on the "post-hope zeitgeist" (the band's words, not ours), places any less emphasis on rapping than a typical Roots album. Black Thought's always stellar, if stiff, rhymes are augmented with sharp verses from Truck North, Little Brother's Phonte Coleman and STS, a little-known Philly lyricist whose plucky cameos on "Right On" and "Hustla" should bring him some greater notice. These performances act more as augmentation than the proverbial point, though - just one more component of a mood.
Recommended tracks: "Walk Alone," "Right On"