That’s Jim James (ok, Yim Yames) at the beginning and it’s the same “Dear God” as appeared on the Monsters of Folk album—that is, until the Roots’ Black Thought takes over. (I like, by the way, how long he waits. This is a confident band. And check out that great “Uh-huh” with which he starts his rap after James, both times.) I don’t think you have to be a big hip-hop fan (lord knows I have no expertise in the area) to sense the glory in this performance. The voice rumbles more with weariness than anger, or even pain; words tumble out but with great discipline; thoughts pile onto thoughts almost haphazardly but stark themes emerge; and—nimble trick, this—words that don’t really rhyme are made to sound better than if they did. (e.g. “Why is the world ugly when you made it in your image?/And why is living life such a fight to the finish?”) And everything floating on top of a jazz-informed soul groove, soft but persuasive, with some really sweet chord progressions, if you wait and listen for them.
And listen, I know the distance I tend to keep from hip-hop is a generational thing. I find it hard to warm to music without melody and (often) without a lot of actual instruments, and hard to warm to vocalists who seem to all want to sound the same, not to mention lyrical content that often seems so bleak and short-sighted. But never mind all that right now. This song’s the real deal, and so is this band.