Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 21: The Roots, "You Got Me"

Artist: The Roots
Song: "You Got Me"
Album: Things Fall Apart
Year: 1999

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One of the largest misconceptions that the musically ignorant like to place on the hip-hop genre is their claim that it is somehow less of a talent, often stating that there is no "music" to the style.  Yet while this stereotype has persisted since the first appearances of the style, the reality is that there has also been a constant stream of hip-hop artists that made their name from creating amazing musical compositions over which some of the finest rhymes in history have been placed.  One can choose any "era" of hip-hop music, and the overly creative, original sounding groups are absolutely present, yet few have excelled as brilliantly as one can find all across the recordings of The Roots.  Making their name within the vibrant "underground" hip-hop scene of the early and mid 1990's, the group gained an extremely dedicated following, largely due to their combination of jazzy, funky songs, along with their hard-hitting, vivid lyrics.  As the music scene gradually tired of the over-done, rather bland world of "gangsta rap," it was artists like The Roots that served as the saving grace for the genre, and few records from the entire history of hop-hop remain as stunning to experience as their 1999 opus, Things Fall Apart.  Filled with some of the most engaging musical arrangements and intriguing lyrics, The Roots cemented their name as one of the most important bands in all of hip-hop history with their beautiful, powerful 1999 single, "You Got Me."

The moment that "You Got Me" begins, it is impossible to get away from the song.  The music is instantly hypnotizing, as the band wastes no time in setting one of the most perfect grooves ever captured on tape.  There is a tone and mood that grabs the listener from the get-go, and this reality is the very essence of the exceptional talents of The Roots.  Much of this fantastic mood comes from the sharp drumming from the now-iconic ?uestlove, as it is the high-tension snap that he lays down that gives "You Got Me" its signature sound.  The way in which one cannot help but nod along with this beat quickly pushes it far beyond any other hip-hop recording, and the mellow, beautiful guitar progression works in perfect compliment.  It is the interplay between these two elements that makes "You Got Me" so inviting, as the song is able to appeal to the more r&b-style crowd, whilst simultaneously providing enough of an edge to keep the hip-hop fans engaged.  Furthermore, The Roots are clearly conscious of the tends within hip-hop at the time, as "You Got Me" carries with it a heavy, but subtle kick from the bass, making the song just as good for "bumping" as any other, yet in a more refined, more musically sound manner.  It is the wide array of instrumentation at play throughout the song that make "You Got Me" such a fantastic work of art, and this track is all the proof one could need to cement hip-hop's place alongside any other musical style.

Yet it is also the way that The Roots are able to create a brilliant vocal dynamic that vaults "You Got Me" to such a high status.  While in many ways they had already proven their exceptional vocal talents on their previous albums, it is the inclusion of songstress Erykah Badu on "You Got Me" that makes the song a true classic.  The fact that Badu fits so perfectly into the mix the band creates is a testament to the exceptional level of musical balance all across the track, as well as standing as the finest crossover between hip-hop and r&b that has ever been recorded.  Badu's smooth, yet somewhat edgy voice is absolutely beautiful at every turn, as she spins a uniquely female perspective into a male-dominated lyrical environment.  The way that Badu's sound contrasts the vocals of emcee Black Though is spectacular, and even those who are not huge fans of hip-hop are sure to enjoy this superb vocal pairing.  It is the fact that Black Thought's vocals are so clear and creative that set the song further apart from "just rap," and this in many ways is one of the most important factors in all of the music from The Roots.  "You Got Me" also features one of the earliest and most impressive rhymes from Eve, as she plays the "other side" of Black Thought's message of "real" love and trust.  The fact that "You Got Me" is based around the idea of two lovers reminding one another that their feelings are true also sets the track far apart from a majority of hip-hop music, and yet the fact that the song is without question as "real" as one could want is the final proof of the songs place as a true hip-hop masterpiece.

Following the release of "You Got Me," the song vaulted The Roots into the hip-hop mainstream, yet they stayed true to their sound, releasing a number of fantastic songs in the years that followed.  However, "You Got Me" caught the attention of a massive audience, and the sheer beauty and perfection of the track ended up winning the 2000 Grammy Award for "Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group."  Even without such accolades, there is no question that the track is one of the greatest in hip-hop history, and even more than a decade since its release, it remains just as fresh and powerful as ever.  At every turn, one can experience just why The Roots are held in such high regard, as their knowledge and ability in all forms of music come through quite clearly.  The way that the band is able to fuse together elements of jazz, blues, soul, and hip-hop into an amazing musical work is unlike anything else recorded to this day, and there are few bands from any genre that make as consistently great music as one finds all across the recorded history of The Roots.  However, the truth of the matter is, the original backing vocal on "You Got Me" was written and performed by Jill Scott, but MCA Records asked for it to be re-recorded by Badu.  Both versions are absolutely fantastic, and there is no getting around the fact that the song is the living proof that hip-hop is just as "musical" as any other style.  Boasting musical perfection in absolutely every area, there is no other song in history that measures up to The Roots magnificent 1999 single, "You Got Me."

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