Questlove gave a nice long interview to the Globe and Mail. It’s a fascinating insight into the evolution of the Roots and into the production of Undun, and is well worth the read.
Questlove, on the narrative theme and structure of Undun, a song-cycle that comments on the often short, tragic lives of African Americans, some who die from bullets and some from bad diets. The album begins with the sound of a cardiac flat-line, chronologically working its way back in reverse: “There’s age 23, and there’s 48. Violence is the hooded stranger of death that’s around the corner that you have to avoid. And then there’s your heart. High cholesterol is that same monster waiting for you at age 48. We wanted to tell a story, not personalizing it where the listener would have pity. We didn’t want the protagonist to be a villain or a hero. We thought it would be more interesting to do the album as the voice inside of his head. Also, it was a challenge to tell a story backward in reverse linear fashion, and to tell it in a short manner. Most of our albums are sprawling 78-minute magnum opuses of sound and rhyme. We wanted to cut it by half, but to have the same impact.”
No mention of the Redford Stephens character that the album is supposedly designed for, but there is a little hint at an album that could have been with the late Amy Winehouse. He says “She wanted to do an artistic jazz record, with the two of us and Mos Def and Raphael Saadiq.” That would have been amazing.