For the Roots' double dose of Radio City Music Hall shows in a couple of weeks, calls are pouring in to drummer ?uestlove to get down onstage.
"Everybody is calling us by the minute, like, 'Please, can we do one song with y'all?' I'm like, 'Michael, no, wait until you finish your Thriller follow-up,' " ?uest joked.
Nas, Common and Talib Kweli have been confirmed for the show on May 18, while Erykah Badu, Mos Def, J*Davey and Angélique Kidjo are on the bill for the next night, May 19. ?uestlove said those names were released just to "sweeten the pot," and that the surprises they have on tap are mind-blowing.
"If you have to ask yourself, 'I wonder if such-and-such will be there?,' chances are they will be there," he said. The Roots aren't strangers to sharing a stage, as they do every year at their annual pre-Grammy jam session ("Snoop, Chappelle And Fall Out Boy Jump Onstage And Jam With The Roots").
The Roots have performed around the world but have never touched the legendary stage at Radio City, which ?uest said was a dream of his.
"This is the most important dart throw of our career," he said. "My girlfriend's former job was down the street from Radio City. I used to walk there picking her up like, 'Damn, I've done Lincoln Center, but my dream was to always play Radio City Music Hall.' Fortunately, the opportunity came up when the people at Verizon asked us to put together our wet-dream show. We're pulling out the big guns. The hardest thing about this show will actually be keeping under wraps who the special guests are. If you know the Roots, you know our history in New York. Anybody is probably liable to come out with us."
Performing with Nas is also a milestone for the group, ?uest said.
"It's weird, we've pretty much shared the stage at one point or another with every hip-hop luminary with the exception of Nas," he said. "I know he's been to two or three Roots shows, but he's been as a spectator in the audience. Nothing's gonna make me happier [than performing with him]. As a DJ, when I play 'Made You Look,' it goes into absolute chaos. With him onstage with us, it will be crazy."
The Roots will be promoting their upcoming LP, Game Theory (due in late August), but the concerts also are a charity event for late beatmaking guru J Dilla, a.k.a. Jay Dee (see "Jay Dee — Producer For Common, Busta And Tribe — Dies").
"J Dilla was one of the most incredible, invisible geniuses of the hip-hop field and of music in general," ?uest said (see "Jay Dee: Hip-Hop's Shy Giant"). Dilla is the only outside producer on Game Theory.
"The direction of the new record is definitely darker, a more serious record," ?uest said. Although the Roots have been doing well, their take on world affairs has caused a shift in their music.
"It still don't mean the dog don't eat your homework every now and then," he said. "Basically, during the time we made this, a lot of the times when we were touring, especially in countries where the only English you get is CNN ... on days off, you might have CNN on for eight hours. You're almost forced to be political. When you're in Europe, you're either watching CNN or BBC World News.
"It's also something we haven't done before," he continued about the darker LP. "As far as the Roots are concerned, people know that our prowess on the mic and onstage is bar none. But there's only so many times you can say that before you start thinking it's stale in your mind. It's really time to evolve for us. A lot of this writing also occurred during a period of August and September, when we were watching what was going on with Katrina. This is not the Katrina record, but definitely for the catalog of the Roots, it's not the 'Mellow My Man' stuff. We're going balls to the wall with this record."