The Roots - The Tipping Point
Where The Bomb Squad pulled and stretched the sound of sixties soul into squalling backing tracks for Public Enemy, The RZA favoured scratchy samples and rhythms for a murky, bleak sound, made soulful more by association than anything he brought to the Wu-Tang records. Enter The 36 Chambers and the first Gravediggaz albums, in particular, favoured the warm sound of soul over the clipped beats and electronica of other acts and of his own Bobby Digital album.
Coming later, The Roots went even further in their use of instruments in hip-hop with Black Thought and ?uestlove taking up rapping and a drumkit instead of twin turntables, a mixer and a collection of vinyl albums. As they later admitted, cost influenced their decision more than any preferred style but having put the beginnings of a sound in place, Hub and Malik B joined on bass and vocals, respectively, and their debut album, Organix, followed soon after. Its major-label follow-up, Do You Want More?!!!??!, eschewed samples completely and although that attitude lessened over subsequent albums, there remains a strong sense of there being a live band at the heart of The Roots' music.
Of course, with The Roots being as willful as any other hip-hop act, The Tipping Point begins with a sample taken from Sly And The Family Stone's Everybody Is A Star but where the original was a sweet pop song in which the band swapped lines in the chorus, The Roots' Star is a creeping soul song that, as Sly Stones' voice ebbs, flows and fades out of the mix, is closer to the stoned rock of There's A Riot Goin' On than the uplifting music of Stand!
Elsewhere, though, there is a swagger to the sound of The Tipping Point with second track, I Don't Care, strutting about nothing other than the funk with a full sound that continues through the album. Guns Are Drawn is close to being a highlight as it has a sinister set of grooves that closes the album's opening four tracks. Close to this song, which then closes the Stay Cool, Web and Boom! heart of the album is Somebody's Gotta Do It, which is similar in style to the Gravediggaz' bleak Never Gonna Come Back from The Pick, The Sickle And The Shovel and The Tipping Point continues this feeling with the threatening Duck Down!, leaving the album to wrap up with the funky Why (What's Goin On?) and Melting Pot.
Out of those three songs in the middle of the album, however, Stay Cool is the exception as it breaks away from the often grim tone on the rest of the album in favour of relaxed summer pop, whilst Web and Boom! are close brothers, with the barrage of lyrics in one giving away to the same in the other. Of the two, Boom! is the better song as it climbs through a soul riff even before the vocals come in and when they do, The Roots swap verses over a track The Bomb Squad would have been proud of, allowing the band to pull off a sound almost identical to Burn Hollywood Burn from Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet, particularly in the similarity between the styles of Black Thought and Big Daddy Kane.
This is a great album, however, and whilst the thought is still that The Roots are somehow opposed to sampling, there's enough of a mix on here of their own playing and of samples that The Tipping Point shows how The Roots may finally garner the commercial success that has so far escaped them. The Tipping Point is a warm, fascinating album with more lyrical ideas than it appears to have coped with but with such a knowledge of funk, rock and soul that it compares well to Sly And The Family Stone, who open the album in inspired form with The Roots' sampling of their music.