Let me nail my colurs to the mast - in my opinion, The Roots are the finest exponents of hip-hop, period. I go back as far as Cool Herc, Soul Sonic Crew and Funk Master Flex through to KRS 1, Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest and Talib Kweli. As far a John Legend is concerned, I'm a definately NOT a fan, hard as I've tried. I would not put him in the same class as Bilal, D'Angelo, Jaheim, Anthony Hamilton, Joe etc - the guy just does not move me as some singers can. As owner as both Get Lifted and Evolver albums, I always felt that he was a fine singer, but simply did not have the material to show off his talents. I compare the situation to why so many wanted to work with the Neptunes, Mark Ronson and JDilla (RIP) all geniuses when it comes to musical production.
What sets The Roots apart are that they are (have evolved) into a hip-hop "band"; their talent in this field is peerless being able to play absolutely anything, with anyone. This being they case, they obviously took time to dissect and analyse Legend's voice and subsequently selected a range of songs which are a perfect foil for his down-home earthy voice.
I first became aware of what was in store by seeing the live performance at the 2010 Fifa World Cup which blew me away - I finally thought "someone has actually worked out how to use this guy!" This album is testimony to that. Yes, apart from "Shine" its full of covers, but unless you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, there is lot to which you will not familiar. Apart from the title track, which is the "pull in a wide audience" track, there are a number of absolute gems. Personal favourites are Humanity (a very popular Lovers Rock staple) and wonderful version of Bill Withers (I can't write Left Handed)
I truly hope that Legend decides to look toward more collaborations so he can concentrate on creating some vocal highlights that will stand the test of time. As far as The Roots are concerned, I am once again in shock and awe of their ability to create music that I thought was lost when "auto-tune" became a household name.