Game Theory

Artist: The RootsTitle: Game TheoryRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jayson Rodriguez

Something's got to give. Since 1999's Things Fall Apart, The Roots have tried to balance an extremely tight rope between underground supremacy and commercial viability. But the Philly collective has either veered too far to the left with their sound (the rock-ish hum of 2002's Phrenology) or played it safe with a small collection of songs (2004's The Tipping Point) hardly potent enough to match the capabilities of a band that's headlined Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center. With Game Theory (Def Jam), however, ?uestlove and Black Thought are synchronized; both musically and lyrically aligned with a darker timbre, resulting in the band's finest album since Things Fall Apart

From the start, Thought continues to extol the virtues of his ever expanding voice and consciousness, which the characteristically reticent emcee first displayed on The Tipping Point. "I try to school these bucks, but they don't wanna listen/That's the reason the system making this paper from the prison," he rages over the frantic drum and keyboard pace of the Kool & The Gang and Ohio Players sampling lead single, "Don't Feel Right." The opening track, "False Media," finds Thought solemnly chastising the U.S.'s coverage of the War on Terror. Production wise, the album also soars with the sinister bass line and thumping drums on the haunting "In The Music" and the blissfully woozy stylings of "Long Time" featuring fellow Illadelphian Peedi Peedi.

The few miscues, of which most are minor, come toward the back end of the album. "Here I Come" revisits the guitar-laden synths of Phrenology's rock-inspired selections with mixed results. Here, Thought's verse sound rushed and he's easily bested on the mic by returning members Malik B. and Dice Raw. Then there's the sluggish "New World," which sonically fails to match Thought's revelatory rhymes. It's only in these instances where the chemistry of the band succumbs to ?uestlove's adventurous musical endeavors.

During a time of war and tragedy-most of the project was recorded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina-The Roots could have easily relied on their rabid neo-soul friendly fan base and Def Jam's marketing muscle to craft an album more digestible and fitting for an act on such a mainstream label. But instead, The Roots have masterfully come together thematically to capture and challenge the pulse of a nation, band, and their Hip-Hop peers. And that's not a game.