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'undun': The Story Of A Gifted Black Youth Unravels

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THE ROOTS UNDUN
The Roots

Unwritten and unraveled the deadman's pedantic...
--Black Thought, "Make My" from
undun

We've known many kids over the years just like Redford Stephens, the semi-fictional protagonist whose brief life (1974-1999) informs the narrative underpinning of our new album, undun. Redford is the prototypical urban kid -- young, gifted, black, and unraveling before our eyes. Too volatile to embrace, we wait for the shot clock to count down their demise.

There's a certainty to this specific brand of premature black-tinged expiry, and yet, it always catches us off guard.

A few months ago, in the midst of our "30 Rock" grind, a segment producer pops in our rehearsal room and says, "Hey guys, we need something special for this Kristin Wiig sketch -- something upbeat!" Before I can respond, I feel the smartphone vibrating in my pocket. I check it. And in the surreal waltz that is my everyday life, I've been informed that my man Lil' Mark back in Philly is no more. I tuck away the emotions that are rushing to the surface, finish the requested 'upbeat' ditty in A major and keep it moving.

What it do? Where does it move to -- the slow motion of feeling that stops... dead in its tracks, like Soulja Slim in Gentilly?

The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama recorded 3,446 lynchings of black folks between 1882 and 1968. As Kanye reminds us, the number of black folks murdered by black folks in Chicago over, say the last 20 years, is well over 10,000. Nice work if you can get it, and clearly you can get it if you try. Just ask Lil' Mark's moms or countless other mothers knee-deep in grief and funeral wreaths.

It's almost cliché now.

Redford is the personification of the Nietzchean abyss gazing into my generational cohorts and me. With undun we hoped to give voice to an imagined internal dialogue that could take place as a deceased black youth looks forward into our post-modern void.

The confluence of hypercapitalism's manufactured desire (shout out to Thorstein Veblen), the bankrupt currency of perceived black cool (shout out to Steve Stoute), the hobbled nexus of negation and assimilation (shout out to a Lincoln-channeling Obama), is not a sometime thing and needs must when the devil drives.

Here are some snapshots of Redford's head caught mid-dialectic:

"Sleep"
Redford disoriented post mortem

I've lost a lot of sleep to dreams
And I do not miss them
I wouldn't wish them on the worst of enemies
Let them burn, go from here
Like when autumn leaves
-- Aaron Livingston

To catch a thief
Who stole the soul I prayed to keep
-- Black Thought

"Make My"
Redford in the throes of death

Tryna control the fits of panic
Unwritten and unraveled
The dead man's pedantic
Whatever...
See it's really just a matter of semantics
When everybody's fresh out of collateral to damage
-- Black Thought

I did it all for the money Lord
It's what it seems
But in the world of night terrors--it's
Hard to dream
They hollering cash rules everything
-- Big K.R.I.T.

"One Time"
Redford figuring on his mortality and showing signs of experiencing remorse.

I wonder when you die do you hear harps and bagpipes
If you born on the other side of the crack pipe
Niggas learn math just to understand the crack price
Then drive in head first like the jack knife
Cause out here, yo you niggas can't belly flop
If you wanna make the noise inside your belly stop
-- Dice Raw

Man, I guess if I was ever lucky it was one time
Then I went missing looking for the sublime
A nigga stayed low, left the ladder unclimbed
Time after time, verse blank, the line unrhymed
-- Black Thought

"Tip The Scale"
Redford's will to power

Picture me living life as if I'm some animal
That consumes it's own dreams like I'm a cannibal
I won't accept failure unless it's mechanical...
-- Black Thought

I got a brother on the run and one in
Wrote me a letter he said when you comin
Shit man I thought the goals to stay out
Back against the wall
Then shoot your way out
--Dice Raw