Close your eyes. Imagine a trendsetting hip-hop band creating music with a revered soul vocalist. Good stuff, right? Open your eyes. The dream is real, folks — legendary hip-hop collective The Roots, who are the sole reason “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” retains any artistic merit whatsoever, have just released Wake Up! with the captain of cool, John Legend.
Raps and rhythm and blues typically make a great combination, and Legend with The Roots is on par musically with just about any contemporary “dream team.” The two camps came together to record a poignant collection of 60s and 70s soul covers in the past year. Every song has political undertones, the idea being to “wake up” the youth or the government leaders or whoever seems to be asleep in this country.
The problem with this idea is not the execution — the music is as advertised: A solid, commendable effort — but the issue is the theme. If anyone thinks these songs are going to stir up a revolution, they are quite mistaken. Legend is no Zack de la Rocha, and even if he did spout off an occasional “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” it would still sound like a chorus of angels singing lullabies to baby sheep.
It’s impossible to imagine a teenager in the United States listening to Wake Up! and feel like action must be taken against the powers that be. The album is simply good music, but nothing more. Those looking for a rebel rouser will be lulled into complacency by extended jams such as “I Can’t Write Left-Handed,” which simmers for almost 12 minutes.
It’s nothing against Legend or the Roots, but Wake Up! is fairly forgettable due to the lack of rebellious energy put into songs written during a violent era of political change. The sheer talent of both artists is on display throughout, but both have outdone this release by leaps and bounds. This album is a good listen, but it is merely a temporary pacifier for those waiting for the next great release of 2010.