Monday, October 30, 2006

It Don't Feel Right

The Roots combine three songs from their latest album, Game Theory, into one video that produces mixed results. But there are shadows of a theme that linger and persist through all three…

VIDEO: "It's In the Music/Here I Come/Don't Feel Right Medley" The Roots

Game Theory is a great album because it harkens back to the best of The Roots past while still revealing new insights and fresh concepts. In making this video they’ve chosen three songs from that album that highlight its strengths, revealing an emphasis on beats that are both soulful and perfectly matched to Blackthought's smooth cadence. Yet the songs are not simply on display to sell that record, they have a common thread that this video brings out cleverly and clearly, and one that at times works brilliantly.

Blackthought begins on the streets, forming out of a shadow. The imagery sets the mood, gritty and alive – an environment in which ‘Thought excels lyrically. The figures on the brick walls exchange in a number of activities from drug deals to fist fights. Then many of these figures are beaten down by the police, who will eventually begin chasing ‘Thought himself. In combination with the song, which implores the youth and the disenfranchised to find solace in the music, the images on the walls are meant to define the struggle. Words appear on the walls as graffiti art, harkening back to the roots (excuse the pun) of the anti-establishment vibe within the hip-hop movement. More importantly, the word “nomad” signifies what ‘Thought sees as the consequences of this cycle of violence. It not only creates animosity towards the police and government, but also towards the youth within the minority communities, and thus it separates and divides; eventually leaving everyone feeling even more alone.

So it isn’t a coincidence that when the next track starts our rapper is running from the police, on his own. He’s moving through the neighborhoods of his hometown, Philadelphia, and as they expand and contract he cannot seem escape the shadows of his youth, the shadows of that mistreatment and inequality. Faced with such an imbalanced system at such an early age, many kids are forced into the crime game to feel any sort of belonging, let alone support for their families and selves. Now moving into adulthood they are still haunted by the memories of those crimes and both the guilt and anger associated with them. The system has trapped them from the earliest age within the confines of poverty and criminality.

In the final sequence this comes vividly to life with “Don’t Feel Right,” where ‘Thought is brought in to be questioned by the “authorities.” There is not only factual evidence of a discrepancy, but in the use of the lie detector there is the implication that these facts are hidden or disguised intentionally. In a trick that was also recently used in the Taking Back Sunday video for “Liar,” the detector’s results come alive to depict the actual truths of life in America. Many of these images we’ve seen in the shadows of the first part of the video, and here they re-emerge in the interrogation room of a convicted criminal. The point is, there is an entire history behind certain crimes, and if the problem at the core isn’t solved, than the situation will never resolve itself. The Roots and their director want to place the blame, based on the final image, in the police brutality and inequality of the impoverished neighborhoods where the cycle of violence is born.

But on an even deeper level, this problem runs to the heart of the way in which we want to govern our society. We choose to use punishment as a method of deterring violence, but punishment is violence. And whether it is a random beating or even a verbal assault, the debasement of a human being will never inspire that person to change towards something great. This type of punishment destroys morale, erases self-confidence and makes us all “nomads” left to fend for ourselves in a world seemingly out to get us. The pain, shame and self-hate that are intentionally induced by our system of punishment are what make lifetime criminals. If you convince someone they are “bad,” it becomes ten times harder to ever show them that they can be “good.” Jails simply hide criminals, they don’t fix anything.

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