Hear five essential tracks from the collective of top musicians known for their incredible live performances and prolific musical output.
The Roots story begins at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts where Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter were both students. The couple shared a musical kinship and got their start on street corners, rapping over bucket drums. Their first “official” gig was a 1989 talent show at their high school when they went through Radio Activity. By the time they recruited bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard and the late rapper Malik B into the band, they were known as the Square Roots. They later dropped the “Square” because it was in conflict with another Philadelphia band performing under the same name.
The band moved to London where they independently released the album “Organix”, a masterpiece which, along with extensive touring, would help them grow their growing cult following.
The Roots received offers from music labels, and the band eventually signed with DGC/Geffen and released their second studio album “Do You Want More?!!!??!”
At a time when gangsterism in hip-hop was at its height, The Roots championed a style that highlighted classic elements of hip-hop, including turntablism and scratching, but with musical virtuosity built on eclectic live jazz styles that could be found anywhere from nationally acclaimed venues like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to intimate, low-key jazz clubs. This, combined with Black Thought’s outstanding storytelling and the band’s cypher-style performance appeal, resulted in a powerful band that shaped the sounds of modern hip-hop.
Listen: Five must-have tracks from The Roots.
1. “Sweet my man”
The album “Do you want more?!!!??!” set a template for The Roots sound with their live aesthetic. He also gave insight into the band’s ambition and artistic vision. They took that vision to the next level with their next release “Illadelph Halflife”, a somewhat darker album with a more focused and spiritually infused aural sensitivity, adjusting their sound amid socially political and conscious lyrics.
2. “What They Do”
“What They Do” is a clever but biting critique of rap video cliches of the day and an anti-gangsta manifesto. Following the release of “llladelph Halflife”, The Roots have again evolved their sound on their next album, “Things Fall Apart”, named after the Chinua Achebe novel of the same title. The album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios around the same time other Soulquarians projects were created at the same facility, such as D’Angelo’s “Voodoo”, Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun” and ” Like Water for Chocolate” by Common. pivot and connective tissue between this and the emerging neo soul/progressive soul genre.
3. “Act Too (Love of My Life)”
Grammy-nominated “Things Fall Apart” featured a more structured sound that was entirely directed by The Roots. Gone is the loose, jazzy, live, improvisational feel of “Organix” and “Do You Want More?!!!??!”, replaced by a more precise sonic collage with coherency, unity, and consistent flow with the tracks.
Related: Questlove’s ‘Summer of Soul’ Brings the Hidden History of Harlem’s Cultural Festival to the Masses
The Roots continued their ambitious forays into sonic discovery on “Phrenology.” The album is a brilliant soul/funk, rock, drum-and-bass, techno and progressive soul groover that again raised the bar for hip-hop and was by far the band’s most impactful album to date. .
5. “The Show”
The band continued to evolve their sound on subsequent albums and tour over 200 days a year, cultivating their reputation as one of the hardest working live bands in the industry. They have featured a rotating roster of artists as part of the group which over the years has included musicians who have become respected artists in music, but the current incarnation of the group includes Kamal Gray, Stro Elliot, James Poyser, Captain Kirk Douglas. , Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr” Bryson, Ray Angry, Mark Kelley, Jeremy Ellis, Ian Hendrickson-Smith and Dave Guy.
In 2009, they became the official house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”, blending seamlessly into the mainstream.
As a group, The Roots are musical pioneers and trendsetters, influencing generations of artists and producers through their work ethic, prolific production, and ability to connect hip-hop to its heritage. its music and popular culture.
Over 11 album releases, they have brought an ambitious sense of experimentation to hip-hop, a collective of high-level musicians familiar with musical traditions who have developed a respected legacy as an outfit that showcases the one of the best live shows in the music world. In short, The Roots are a genre in their own right, going their own way and forging their own path while shaping the future direction of music.
More 5 of 5 from Chris Campbell of The Progressive Underground:
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