President Jay-Z’s Latest Act: The Roots Ink With Def Jam

Signing is the fulfillment of a high-school dream for the long-running Philly rap group.

NEW YORK — Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle aren’t the only ones who can say they fulfilled their destiny this year: The Roots have realized their youthful dream of signing to the label that Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin created.

“The Roots got a new home,” drummer ?uestlove said Wednesday in New York. He was at the Hammerstein Ballroom, participating in rehearsals for VH1’s upcoming “Hip-Hop Honors” awards show. “You know, back in high school in Philadelphia, when the Roots first started, me and [Roots rapper] Black Thought just used to sit in lunch making our album covers, what they would look like. We would put the Def Jam logo on the bottom. That was a pipe dream. Now, some 12, 13 years later, nine albums later, we’re putting out an album and there is gonna be a Def Jam logo imprint on the bottom of it.

“It’s a legacy, it’s historical,” ?uest continued. “Of course, for the Roots, the most important thing for us is providing grade-quality, hip-hop connoisseur music. So we’re very excited to have a new home. We’re gonna maximize on it. [The new album] is 15 songs, it’s gonna be our darkest, craziest record since [2002’s] Phrenology, [1996’s] Illadelph Halflife. This is a dirty, dirty record — a raw-sounding record.”

The Roots and Jay-Z, of course, have worked together extensively onstage: The group backed Hova for his 2001 Unplugged LP, and ?uest served as musical director for Jay’s “farewell” concert, which became the Fade to Black film (see “The Roots’ ?uestlove Recalls Jay-Z Farewell Show; Hopes To Inspire Young Musicians” and “Mary J., Missy, R. Kelly, Beyonce Join Jay-Z At Madison Square Garden” ).

The Roots are almost done recording their new LP — which is titled Game Theory — and it will be out in either February or March. So far they’ve recorded with Black Star (that’s Talib Kweli and Mos Def, in case you forgot) and Saigon. There may be a Jay-Z guest appearance on the album, but that hasn’t been confirmed just yet.

“We’ll see what’s up,” ?uest smiled. “I just want him to guide our careers. Of course, being on Def Jam doesn’t mean you’ll get a free Hova verse.”

He paused, then said with a light giggle, “I don’t know, does it mean you’ll get a free Hova verse? I don’t know.”