I was introduced to the Roots shortly after their second record Do You Want More?!!!??! came out. I had just met and started working informally with the first members of my band Heiruspecs. This record sounded very different than us, but did perfectly what we wanted to do early on: be really good, and have a lot of fun.
There are two reasons to really love the Roots. First, the music is great. Second, they hustle harder than most bands around.
Black Thought walks a line between gangster and conscious rap really well and manages to give you the pulse of South Philly without telling the tales of inner-city destruction that have made so many other rappers famous. Honestly, nowadays this is a sadly rare voice in rap. He may be the lyrical anchor for the Roots, but it was Dice Raw’s verse on the Illadelph Halflife track “Clones” that drove me and a few other local rappers you know to check ourselves and take our craft more seriously. These emcees have to be taken seriously.
Oh, and the band…you have to take them even more seriously. If there’s a more in-demand drummer than Questlove, I don’t know who they are. I follow this guy on Instagram, and have seen him play four or five shows in a day. Everyone on stage with the Roots oozes talent, but even their earlier lineups included people like Scott Storch, who’s gone on to produce more hits than I could name in this space. As the Roots, the band have leant their magic as a backing band to Jay-Z, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Jill Scott, and others. Still, after 13 albums and many more live recordings, they have a sound that is truly their own. No one sounds like the Roots. I’m pretty sure no one can.
Seeing the hustle of this band over the years inspired us to tour, and then tour harder. I remember booking early Heiruspecs tours and talking to Sean “Twinkie Jiggles” McPherson about how hard the Roots toured in Europe to support their first record, Organix, before becoming known in the United States. When they won their first Grammy for their track “You Got Me,” I remember conversations about how doors were opening for live bands in hip-hop. Now as I look around, almost every major rapper tours with a live band. I’m not sure that would have happened without the Roots setting such a strong example of just how great rap and live instruments can be.
I know why I was asked to write this. I rap, and I do so with a live band. Guilty as charged.
Would we have gotten started without the Roots? Absolutely.
Would so many people have taken us seriously? Hard to say.
You know what’s easy to say? I @#*! love the Roots.
This week, the Current celebrates the Roots in honor of Black History Month. Listen for the Roots’ music throughout the week. Also in honor of Black History Month, read Har Mar Superstar’s tribute to Sam Cooke and Lizzo’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.