Here is a repost of the retrospective that I wrote on The Roots for Berlin-based Pop Magazine: http://pop-mag.com/2014-05-15/the-roots-more-than-a-quarter-century-in-the-game/
The past quarter of a century has seen The Roots truly evolve within the sphere of American popular music, positioning the group as one of many foundational cornerstones. By now, they are truly ubiquitous as a band, having produced more than fifteen records, EPs and collaborative albums with artists from John Legend to Betty Wright to Elvis Costello. Then there are the individual songs with guest artists for which the list is too long to expand. Their next studio album, entitled …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, will be released on May 19th and is expected to be a satirical look at the violence that is prevalent in Hip Hop and in American culture. At the core of the group are Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter and Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, holding down The Roots franchise since performing on the streets of Philadelphia back in the late 80s. For anyone paying attention to the long history of The Roots as a band, the relationships with past members have seemed complicated, to say the least. But the current incarnation of The Roots has seen transcendent crossover success that was solidified with their appointment as the house band for the celebrated American talk shows, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In addition to their lifelong work as drummer/producer and lead MC of The Roots, Questlove has become an ‘elder statesman’ type historian musicologist DJ and writer, and Black Thought has acted in several films as well as worked with other notable recording artists.
As a longtime fan I have to admit, it’s become a bit difficult keeping up with all of their record releases over the twenty years since becoming familiar with their music. If you ask people in my circle for their favorite songs by The Roots, inevitably the classics will come up. 1994’s ‘Proceed’, ‘Lazy Afternoon’, ‘You Ain’t Fly’ and ‘Silent Treatment’ from their major label-debut album, Do You Want More!?, are still at the forefront of my mind when mentioning The Roots. I remember being in awe at the blaring horns and thumping bass of ‘Essaywhuman?!!!??!’ during Black Thought’s band roll call. ‘You Got Me’ became their first Grammy Award winning anthem representing the prevalent Neo-Soul school of music. It was co-written with fellow hometown hero Jill Scott featuring Philly rapper Eve and soul vocalist Erykah Badu on the 1999 breakthrough album Things Fall Apart. While 1996’s Illadelph Halflife is another personal favorite, their more recent albums like Phrenology and Rising Down carry the same weight of conscious lyricism in metaphoric Hip Hop storytelling accompanied by live instrumentation and genius production. Surely, these albums are favorites for their ever-expanding audience. The Roots remain true to their status of being Hip Hop’s first legitimate band and continue to achieve milestones in the industry including receiving a 2010 Grammy with John Legend for best R&B album Wake Up!, being named one of the ‘Twenty Greatest Live Acts in the World’ by Rolling Stone magazine, and receiving the ‘Heroes Award’ from the Philadelphia chapter of the Recording Academy. In addition to being the first Hip Hop band of late night television, they were also the first to perform at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. The Legendary Roots Crew are no longer rising stars as they have long risen to renowned status worldwide. At this point, I wish them to be the Rolling Stones of Hip Hop, still touring half a century into the game.