NEW YORK — No one could accuse the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of being a simple man.
On Friday, the eloquent drummer spoke to MTV News from the basement of the Apollo Theater, the legendary Harlem venue where he and the Roots performed back-to-back shows. In between sessions, Thompson confirmed that “Birthday Girl” will be the band’s first single from its forthcoming album, Rising Down, tentatively slated for an April 29 release on Def Jam — the last album on the group’s contract with the label.
Thompson revealed just how difficult it was for him and his bandmates to come up with such a straightforward tune.
“Of the lists we always construct together at the top of every album, do you know what the hardest thing to do is?” Thompson asked. “Just a simple song with no tricks.”
Although the song itself may be unfussy, it certainly helps matters when you can convince Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump — who guested at the Roots’ annual pre-Grammy jam session earlier this month — to get involved.
Stump lends his voice to the chorus of the ultra-catchy track, while Black Thought effortlessly spits verses. “It’s just an easy pop song,” ?uest said.
Surprisingly, the song almost didn’t make the album.
“We had that song kind of as a joke,” Thompson said of the track’s origin. “It was birthed somehow during the jam session [for the group's 2004 album] Tipping Point.”
Rising Down will be the Philadelphia outfit’s 10th studio album. The album, named after a book by William T. Vollman (“Rising Up and Rising Down”), is scheduled to feature longtime Roots allies Common and Mos Def, as well as unexpected collaborations with artists like Styles P.
According to Roots manager Richard Nickels, the April 29 release date was chosen because it falls 16 years to the day of the infamous Los Angeles riots.
The date is also fitting considering the theme of the album, Thompson said. Though the project isn’t as dark as the band’s last set, Game Theory, the drummer warned that some content may be unsettling.
“We don’t know if we’re gonna have another chance for a grand statement,” ?uest said. “We’re not playing. This is probably our most political record.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” he added. “It’s too late to reinvent ourselves. We feel like it’s a landmine. I don’t doubt we’ll get to safer ground.”