The Roots are an American hip hop/neo soul band, formed in 1987 by Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The Roots are known for a jazzy and eclectic approach to hip-hop featuring live musical instruments.Malik B., Leonard "Hub" Hubbard, and Josh Abrams were added to the band (formerly named "The Square Roots").
Since its first independent album-length release the band has released 10 studio albums, two EPs, two collaboration albums (with other artists), and also collaborated on recordings and in live shows with a wide variety of artists in many musical genres. The Roots served as the house band on NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from 2009 to 2014, and in the same role (and accompanying show guest artists) on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon since 2014. The Roots' work has been consistently met with critical acclaim. About.com ranked the band #7 on its list of the 25 Best Hip-Hop Groups of All-Time, calling them "Hip-hop's first legitimate band."
The Roots originated in Philadelphia with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter while they were both attending the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. They would busk out on the street corners with Questlove playing bucket drums and Tariq rapping over his rhythms. Their first organized gig was a talent show in 1989 at the school where they used the name Radio Activity, which began a series of name changes that progressed through Black to the Future and then The Square Roots. Prior to the release of Organix, an issue arose with the name. A Philadelphia folk group had claim to the name and to avoid legal wrangling they simply dropped the "Square" aspect and became The Roots in 1992.
Organix was the band's first album, released and sold independently. It was released in 1993. It generated enough industry buzz for offers from music labels, and the band signed with DGC/Geffen. The Roots' first album for DGC, Do You Want More?!!!??!, was released in 1994. It was a moderate hit among alternative music fans due in part to the group's appearance at Lollapalooza. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival that year. Touring guests, beatboxer Rahzel and producer Scott Storch, joined The Roots.
The 1996 release Illadelph Halflife was the group's first album to break the Top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart, spurred in part by MTV's airplay of the video for "What They Do" (a parody of rap video clichés) and "Clones", which was their first single to reach the top five on the rap charts. "What They Do" was also the group's first single to hit the Top 40 of Billboard's charts, reaching a peak of #34. While continuing on the path of live instrumentation, the album's sound was somewhat darker.
Breakthrough with Things Fall Apart:
The group released Things Fall Apart in 1999 (named after Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe, which in turn was named after a line from "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats). This was their breakthrough album, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 charts and earning a gold record, signifying U.S. sales of at least 500,000 units. The album was eventually certified platinum in April, 2013. Mos Def contributed to the track entitled "Double Trouble". The track "Act Two" features African-Belgian band Zap Mama and Common. The track "You Got Me", a duet with R&B singer Erykah Badu and Eve and Jill Scott intended by Black Thought for the "unconscious" population, peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. At the 42nd Grammy Awards "You Got Me" won the award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group and the album was nominated for Best Rap Album.
Steve Huey of the website allmusic.com perceived "a strong affinity for the neo-soul movement" in the album. First-time cameos on Things Fall Apart for Philadelphia natives Beanie Sigel and Eve helped to earn them major record deals later (with Roc-A-Fella and Ruff Ryders, respectively). After this album, Dice Raw left the collective to record his solo debut album Reclaiming the Dead. In the summer, the band performed at the Woodstock '99 concert in New York state.
Several members, including longtime member Malik B., left the group. In December 2001, The Roots backed Jay-Z for his MTV Unplugged concert. With heightened popularity came mounting pressure. The Roots released Phrenology (named after the pseudoscience of phrenology) in 2002. Despite not charting as high as Things Fall Apart, reaching a peak of No. 28 on the charts, Phrenology was commercially successful, being certified gold, and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. At the time, however, there came rumors that The Roots were losing interest in their signing with MCA.
During this time, the band backed Jay-Z for his 2003 farewell concert in Madison Square Garden, and appeared in the accompanying Fade to Black concert film.
The Tipping Point:
After Phrenology, Ben Kenney and Scratch both left the group; Kenney joined the rock band Incubus. This culminated with the release of 2004's The Tipping Point, the byproduct of several jam sessions. The album earned two more Grammy nominations: one for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the track "Star/Pointro" and another for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for the track "Don't Say Nuthin'."The Tipping Point peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart. In 2005, Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Roots, Volumes 1 & 2, a two-disc compilation album, was released. The Roots were among several performers on the 2006 film Dave Chappelle's Block Party, whose event took place on September 18, 2004 and was released on film two years later.
Game Theory was released August 29, 2006, on Def Jam records. Questlove describes the album as being very dark and reflective of the political state in America. The first single from the album, "Don't Feel Right", appeared on the internet in May 2006, and is available for free download on several websites. The album's first video, titled "The Don't Feel Right Trilogy", premiered on August 21, 2006, and features three songs, "In the Music", "Here I Come" and "Don't Feel Right". It earned an 83 on Metacritic and 2 Grammy Nominations. The late J Dilla is honoured on different occasions throughout the album. Track 1 is credited to be "Supervised by J Dilla". Track 13 "Can't Stop This" is devoted to his persona, the first part being an edited version of a track ("Time: The Donut of the Heart") of his Donuts album, released three days before his death. This version comprises vocals by Black Thought. Secondly, a string of kindred artists reminisce about J Dilla in the form of answering machine messages.
The Roots' eighth studio album, Rising Down, was released on April 29, 2008, the 16-year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
In the weeks before the album's release, the original first single "Birthday Girl", a radio-friendly collaboration with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump was removed from the album reportedly because it didn't fit in with the album's tone. It remained as a digital download available from iTunes as a bonus track, as well as on international releases.
Picking up where Game Theory left off, the album maintains a dark and political tone, with Black Thought and several guests venting about the ills of society today. The album's guests include Chrisette Michele, Common, Mos Def, Saigon, Styles P, Talib Kweli, and Wale; it also features Philadelphia artists Dice Raw, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Peedi Crakk, Greg Porn, and Truck North, as well as former member Malik B. Rising Down features The Roots incorporating a more electronic and synth-heavy feel into their sound. Rising Down was released to critical acclaim, garnering an overall score of 80 on Metacritic.
The album's first single was "Rising Up" featuring Chrisette Michele and Wale.
How I Got Over:
How I Got Over reflects the relief the band felt at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama presidency. Guests include Blu, Phonte and Patty Crash, whose song "Serve This Royalty" is covered on the album. Rather than relying on samples, the album was recorded live, with covers (including Celestial Blues, featuring the song's original artist, Andy Bey) being reinterpreted by the band. The album was released on June 22, 2010.
On June 24, 2009, The Roots debuted the first single and title track from the album live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The song features longtime Roots collaborator Dice Raw.
The Roots collaborated with R&B singer John Legend on the album Wake Up!. The album was released on September 21, 2010, and was publicized two days later with a live concert at Terminal 5 in New York City with John Legend and Jennifer Hudson that was streamed on YouTube. On October 30, 2010 The Roots and John Legend played live at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C.
Betty Wright: The Movie:
The Roots collaborated with R&B singer Betty Wright on the 2011 album Betty Wright: The Movie, credited to Betty Wright and The Roots. The album, co-produced by Wright and Questlove, was nominated for a 2012 Grammy in the "Best Traditional R&B Performance".
The Roots released their thirteenth album Undun via Def Jam Records on December 6, 2011. The first single "Make My" leaked on October 17, 2011. Undun tells the story of their semi-fictional character, Redford Stephens, who struggles unsuccessfully to avoid a life crime and fast money. The album's name is inspired by The Guess Who's song "undun", and the character was named after the Sufjan Stevens song "Redford". The album features artists including Aaron Livingston, Big K.R.I.T., Phonte, Dice Raw, Greg Porn, Truck North, Bilal, and Sufjan Stevens.
Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs:
The Roots and Elvis Costello released Wise Up Ghost on September 17, 2013 via Blue Note Records. On July 22, 2013, they released a music video for the first single, "Walk Us Uptown."
...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin:
The Roots released ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin on May 19, 2014. The first single, "When The People Cheer", was released on April 7, 2014.
Black Thought described the album as a satirical look at violence in hip-hop and American society overall.
In an interview with Fuse TV Questlove said he also had "...two or three secret, major musical projects that I'm working on that I can't really talk about."
The Roots' original lineup included Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter (MC) and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (drums), classmates at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. As they began to play at school and on local streets, they added bassist Josh "The Rubberband" Abrams, who went on to form the jazz group The Josh Abrams Quartet. They later added another MC, Malik Abdul Basit-Smart ("Malik B.") and Leonard Nelson "Hub" Hubbard (bass), and Scott Storch (keyboards). Kenyatta "Kid Crumbs" Warren (MC) was in the band for Organix, The Roots' first album release Another MC, Dice Raw, joined the band in cameo appearances on later albums. The band filled Storch's position with Kamal Gray (keyboards), who continues in that capacity. Kamal Gray did not play with the Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon between April or May and early September of 2012. His absence was not publicly explained, however on the September 17th, 2012 (NBC's 'Late Night' 700th) episode, Gray returned to the group. Beatboxer Rahzel was a band member from 1995 to 1999. Alongside Rahzel was turntablist/vocalist Scratch, who also DJ'd in live concerts. However Scratch left abruptly in 2003. Malik B. left the group in 1999 due to personal reasons but continued to record, making occasional cameos on some albums. Guitarist Ben Kenney, had a brief stint with the group and contributed to the Phrenology album, but left to join Incubus as bassist. Percussionist Frank Knuckles joined the lineup in 2002 and guitarist Kirk "Captain Kirk" Douglas replaced Kenney. Vocalist Martin Luther toured with The Roots in 2003 and 2004 and contributed to the Tipping Point album. The group announced in August 2007 that its longtime bassist Leonard Hubbard was leaving. Owen Biddle was the band's bassist in 2007-2011.
The band announced on August 25, 2011 that Owen Biddle left the band, replaced by Mark Kelley.
The Roots' current members are: Black Thought (MC, vocals), Questlove (drums), Cap'n Kirk (guitar, vocals), and Questlove protégé Frank Knuckles (percussion). Recent touring and Tonight Show lineups added Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson (sousaphone) and Mark Kelley (electric bass). On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, James Poyser plays additional keyboards.
Because the band members hail from Philadelphia and its surrounding area, they showed their support for the Phillies during the 2009 World Series against the Yankees, displaying Phillies memorabilia when performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the episode which aired the day after the Yankees clinched the title, Questlove stated "No comment!" on the show's intro (when he usually states the episode number), and had a Yankees logo purposely displayed upside-down on his drumset. In 2010, the group showed support for the Flyers during their run to the Stanley Cup Final by having the team logo on their drumset.
Black Thought - rapping (1987-present),
Questlove - drums (1987-present),
Kamal Gray - keyboards (1994-present),
F. Knuckles - percussion (2001-present),
Captain Kirk Douglas - guitar (2003-present),
Tuba Gooding, Jr. (Damon Bryson) - sousaphone (2007-present),
Mark Kelley - bass guitar (2011-present),
James Poyser - keyboards (For The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and occasional performances only),
As the Tonight Show Band, the Roots also include David Guy and Ian Hendrickson-Smith, two horn players previously known for their work with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.
Malik B. - rapping (1987-1999),
Kid Crumbs (Kenyatta Warren) - rapping (1993),
Rubberband (Josh Abrams) - bass (1992),
Rahzel - beatboxing (1995-2001),
Dice Raw - rapping (1995-2001) (frequent collaborator with the band),
Scott Storch - keyboards (1993-1995),
Ben Kenney - guitar, bass (2000-2003),
Martin Luther - vocals (2003-2004),
Scratch - beatboxing (1996-2003),
Leonard 'Hub' Hubbard - bass (1992-2007),
Owen Biddle - bass (2007-2011),
Touring and other work:
The band tours extensively, and their live sets are frequently hailed as the best in the genre. In 2006 the band played a concert in NYC's Radio City Music Hall with Common, Nas, Talib Kweli and Big Daddy Kane. Also in 2006, they backed Jay-Z for his Reasonable Doubt Concert, a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the release of his first album.
In 1994, The Roots appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time magazine. They have been highly involved in many other Red Hot Organization productions, including the 1998 album Red Hot + Rhapsody and the 2001 album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington.
The Roots have been featured in four movies: Dave Chappelle's Block Party, both performing album songs and playing as a backing band for other artists; Spike Lee's Bamboozled; Marc Levin's Brooklyn Babylon, in which Black Thought plays the protagonist, Solomon, and former band member Rahzel narrates; and Chasing Liberty, starring Mandy Moore. Black Thought and Questlove were both featured in the movie Brown Sugar. Black Thought made an appearance in the film Love Rome as Tariq Trotter, and Questlove currently appears in the recent documentary movie about TBC Brass Band called From the Mouthpiece on Back, which lists The Roots as one of the executive producers of the movie.
The band guest-performed with the Dave Matthews Band during their 2007 summer tour. Members of The Roots played in various forms as well as a whole band on DMB's back to back concerts at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. In 2007 the band performed at an NAACP tribute to Bono, covering U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)". Black Thought mixed in lines from the band's own "False Media".
The group hosts a highly anticipated jam session every year the night before the Grammys. The Roots jam session, produced by Okayplayer, Goodtime Girl Entertainment and Keldof, has been attended by celebrities ranging from Jay-Z, Beyoncé Knowles and Tom Cruise to Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven and Prince with impromptu performances from Snoop Dogg and Corrine Bailey Rae to Queen Latifah, Matisyahu, Fall Out Boy and Dave Chappelle.
Billed as The Roots, Questlove, Kirk and Owen made an appearance on The Colbert Report on April 15, 2008 when Stephen Colbert spent a week in Philadelphia prior to the 2008 Pennsylvania Democratic primary. During the appearance, they performed the intro song to the show, and closed the episode with a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner".
The Roots are featured on the Men in Black Original Soundtrack (1997) with the song "The Notic" with neo-soul singer D'Angelo. The song "Here I Come" was featured in the films Superbad, Hancock and Step Up 3D. "Here I Come" is also featured in many video games including Project Gotham Racing 4. The song "The Seed 2.0" featuring Cody ChesnuTT was featured in the movies Collateral and I Think I Love My Wife, as well as the Without a Trace episode "Candy." The song "Don't Say Nuthin" was featured in the first season episode, "Busey And The Beach" of HBO's Entourage. The song, "Guns Are Drawn", featuring Aaron Livingston, was featured in a season six episode of CBS' Cold Case.
They performed on the popular kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba, performing "Lovely, Love My Family" in 2008. They also did a secret jam session at the Oulipo Ballroom in Kentucky in 2009. In 2012 they played during the NHL Winter Classic at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia and at Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) in Austin, Texas. In 2013 they performed at the Gathering of the Vibes Music Festival at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The Roots host the Roots Picnic, an annual all-day music festival in Philadelphia, every June.
Late Night and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:
In March 2009, The Roots became the new official house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with "Here I Come" as the show's theme. When Jimmy Fallon became the host of The Tonight Show in February 2014, the Roots became the house band for that show.
The Roots feature heavily throughout the show, providing the bumper music in and out of commercials, as well as the opening song "Here I Come" and playing the show off the air. Fallon frequently interacts with the band during the course of the show, with them occasionally providing snippets of music for some monologue running jokes (such as Funkin GoNuts). They also provide music and drum rolls for the games with show guests, along with theme songs for the games and segments (like Darts of Insanity, Wheel of Carpet Samples, or Christmas Sweaters).
On November 22, 2011, US Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was a guest on Late Night. For her entrance, The Roots controversially played a snippet from Fishbone's 1985 song, "Lying Ass Bitch" resulting in apologies from Fallon, Questlove for The Roots, and NBC. The incident nearly resulted in The Roots being dismissed from the show, but the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday and a national security gaffe by Bachmann shortly after helped defuse the situation in the media. As a result of the incident, NBC approves all walk on songs prior to filming each show.
One of the first sketches involving the Roots was 'Freestyling with the Roots.' Fallon finds an audience member and gets them to talk about themselves and a topic. The information is relayed to Tariq along with a genre of music, and they then compose a song on the spot. In the early days of the show in 2009, there was apprehension about their overall fit with the show, but after the first appearance of this sketch and its successful reception, "...They knew they were there for life." ,
Thank You Notes, a segment every Friday, involves keyboardist James Poyser prominently. The segment starts with "Can I get some thank you writing music James?" with Poyser playing and typically acting upset. Fallon then tries to engage with him to get him to smile before continuing the segment.,
Slow Jam The News features Fallon and Tariq, often with a celebrity guest, rhyming over a 'slow-jam' played by The Roots. The lyrics are often political or current events related, with guests usually appearing to talk about an issue pertinent to them. Brian Williams is a frequent popular guest 'vocalist,' talking about the news as if he was still behind his anchor desk. Some of the notable guest slow-jammers include sitting President Barack Obama, and former Governor Mitt Romney. Like the majority of the show, the segments are uploaded to YouTube after airing on NBC and often go viral, President Obama's clip has received over 8 million views and the Mitt Romney clip received 2.7 million views in less than a week.,
The Roots have contributed to additional online successes with the Classroom Instruments sketch. Fallon and a musical guest from the show will record an arrangement of a song with the Roots providing accompaniment on instruments that would be found in an elementary school music class. Examples of these instruments are: wood blocks, xylophones, kazoos, tambourine, melodica, shakers, or recorders. They have performed "Call Me Maybe" with Carly Rae Jepsen (17+ million views), "Blurred Lines" with Robin Thicke (17+ million views), "All I Want For Christmas" with Mariah Carey (12+ million views ), and the Sesame Street theme song with several members of the cast (4+ million views).,
The Roots also provide the backing tracks for Fallon's and Justin Timberlake's episodic 'History of Rap'. By March 2014, the incredibly popular History of Rap saga consists of 5 parts and 101 individual songs, all performed with a comedic approach. The fifth installment was performed during the inaugural week of Fallon's Tonight Show.,
Awards and nominations:
Recipient / Nominated work
"You Got Me" (with Erykah Badu)
Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group
Things Fall Apart
Best Rap Album
Best Urban/Alternative Performance
"Don't Say Nuthin'"
Best Rap Performance By a Duo/Group
"Don't Feel Right"
Best Rap Album
"Hang on in There" (with John Legend)
Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance
Wake Up! (with John Legend)
Best R&B Album
"Shine" (with John Legend)
Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals
"Wake Up Everybody" (with John Legend, Melanie Fiona & Common)
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
How I Got Over
Best Rap Album
"Surrender" (with Betty Wright)
Best Traditional R&B Performance
Best Rap Album
MTV Video Music Awards
2003: MTV2 award for "The Seed 2.0" (Nominated),
mtvU Woodie Awards
2004: Road Woodie and Welcome Back Woodie (Nominated),
2005: Best Group (Nominated),
2009: Best Group (Nominated),
NAACP Image Awards
2005: Outstanding Duo or Group (Nominated),
2007: Outstanding Duo or Group (Winner),
2011: Outstanding Collaboration for Wake Up! (Winner),
2011: Outstanding Album for Wake Up! (Winner),
First Hip-Hop group to perform at Lincoln Center, January 2002,
Named one of the "Twenty Greatest Live Acts in the World" by Rolling Stone, 2003,
"Heroes Award" from the Philadelphia chapter of the Recording Academy, 2004 (Recipient)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license