Perhaps the only major rap-and-r&b act weirder than the Roots—the long-running and curmudgeonly collective from Philadelphia—is Erykah Badu, whose new album, entitled New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), bears little resemblance to even a single piece of music released in the last decade. Her early days as neo-soul’s Billie Holiday seem laughably far away; today, her idiom—one part esoteric philosophy, two parts sample science, all held together by Badu’s helium-squeaky declamations—has more to do with ’70s-era paranoid funk than with modern rap’s blithe material contentment. The Roots, who tote their own brand-new Rising Down to Radio City tonight, know a thing or two about discontentment as well: Rising Down opens with a tape of a 1994 phone call between band and management, in which the group wakes up to the painful fact that it no longer controls its own artistic destiny. They’ve been fighting for creative control ever since.
Fri., May 9, 8 p.m., 2008

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