April 9th, 2009
When I was growing up, it seemed as if only a few thing were always consistent. One of those was my love for music. Me and my brother would lock ourselves in our rooms for hours, going through albums from Jazz and Hip-Hop to Rock n’ Roll and Punk. It didn’t matter what it was as long as it was captivating . In one of those sessions I was introduced to the Roots crew, Philadelphia’s stetsasonic-style hip-hoppers. At the time, the only other rap group that I was familiar with who were accompanied by instruments, in addition to their turntables, were the Beastie Boys. I was already very fond of the New York trio, so I became an instant fan of The Roots, and was extra stoked when Dead C asked me to review their recent Seattle show at the Paramount Theatre. It was a show that I would obviously need to take my big bro to.
Some Background Info
The Roots (aka the Square Roots) started back in 1987 when Black Thought ( Tariq Trotter) and ?estlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) became friends at Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. After playing around town, the two paired up with bassist Leon Hubbard (aka: HUB) and rapper Malik B, soon becoming a well known act from Philly to New York.
In 1993 they recorded an album on, Philadelphia based, Remedy Records called Organix. The album was created for sale at the group’s European shows and, with all the buzz surrounding them, they were made several offers before signing to DGC Records that same year. They released their first major label album Do You Want More?!!!? in January of 1995, breaking the traditional hip-hop style by avoiding any samples or previously recorded material, but it seemed to make more of a dent in alternative circles than the mainstream rap scene. The Roots were also playing Lollapalooza that summer, so that might have had something to do with their lopsided reception as well. In between that and their early ‘96 track release “Clones“, the human beat box Rahzel and producer Scott Storch on keyboards (later replaced by Kamal Gray) were added to the band. Soon after, in September 96, Illadelph Halflife was released, reaching number 21 on the album charts. In 1999, the crew released there third album, Things Fall Apart, which was their biggest critical and commercial success. Roots Come Alive, followed later that year and, in my eyes, it seemed to capture their sound better than any of their other albums, but that’s just me. Three years later, in November of 2002, Phrenology came out and, in 2004, the band created the Okayplayer company. The company included a record label and production/promotion team, which seemed to keep things cracking, at the time, amongst rumors of lost interest in their contract with MCA Records. That same year, they recorded a series of raw jam sessions which were cut down to 10 tracks and released in July as The Tipping Point record, followed by a 2 disk compilation album called Homegrown! The Beginners Guide To Understanding The Roots Vol.1 (2005). In 2006, the group’s first album on Def Jam records, Game Theory, came out and, in 2008, Rising Down was released. According to the post on Okayplayer‘s site, The Roots became the official the house band for Jimmy Fallon‘s new late night show, as of December 9th 2008, .
That’s literally a brief run down of this bands long list of achievements, These guys have worked with such an eclectic variety of musicians from Roy Ayers, Mos Def, Common, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Dice Raw, Jazzy Jeff, Peedi Crack, Chrisette Michele, Jay Z, to Cody Chesnutt, and Fallout Boy‘s Patrick Stump.
Currently the band consists of Black Thought on vocals, ?estlove on drums, Kamal on keys, Captain Kirk Douglas on guitar, Owen Biddle on bass, F knuckles percussion, and Tuba Gooding Jr. on the sousaphone. So if you don’t know, now you know.
April 9th 2008; I met my brother at his crib out on the West side and we rolled out to the Paramount Theatre in Seatown. Parking was a bitch. Being that we didn’t want to pay 15 bucks to getclose, we ended up walking quite a ways, which caused us to miss Pacific Division, the opening act of the show. That and the fact that we had to wait in the freaking lunch line for drinks to get our crunks on. As expected, the scene was very diverse. That is pretty much typical for a Seattle hip hop show; very mellow atmosphere with no egos flying around like at the Chop Suey. It wasn’t very crowded either, which is always a plus. For all of you who haven’t experienced the Paramount venue, it’s a beautiful, old school style theatre with chandeliers and all the trimming. Very classy. The last time that I was there ,I saw The String Cheese Incident all dosed up and I was seated up in the balcony right behind Morgan Freeman. It was both very awkward and very awesome.
As my brother and I were tipping back our last shots of Jack, we heard The Roots begin playing, so we wiggled our way down to the stage. They were going off right away, opening the set with” Thought and Work“. The energy was amazing, everyone was moving together, and, as Black Thought was spitting, veins were popping out his neck. Tuba Gooding Jr. was jumping around with his damn sousaphone and I was sure that Nick Cannon was gonna come out marching a drumline or something. ?estlove‘s afro set the backdrop for the stage.
They rocked a variety of tracks from old to new. A jazzy “Mellow My Man” morphed into a Dead-style drum off between ?uest and Knuckles, which led right back into mellow my man. They covered cuts like Kool and the Gang‘s “Jungle Boogie“, Gary Glitter‘s “Rock and Roll” , and GNR‘s “Sweet Child of Mine“. Mid show, they did a 15 minute tribute to Fela Kuti, during which Black prompted the crowd to organize and unite as the weed smoke filled the venue. Iit was pretty inspiring and the crowd was pumped. Capt. Kirk did his Jimi Hendrix routine, briefly going in to Outkast‘s ” Spottieottiedopaliscious“, which was badass.
When they were finished, they made the crowd beg them to come back before encoring with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” and Kool G Rap and DJ Polo’s “Men at Work“. There where only two things that bugged me about this performance. One was a problem I run into a lot at hip hop shows and that is that I couldn’t make out the vocals at all. As I’ve been mentioning this frustration to others, it seems to be a pet peeve for many. The Second, no offense to Owen Biddle who is a great bass player and producer, but it just doesn’t feel like a roots show without Hubbard. According to rumor, Hubbard is out dealing with a drug problem, but I’m not one to believe everything I hear, so we’ll just say that shit happens and we get bigger for it. With that said, that was the best show I’ve seen in a while. Me and my brother had a blast and got a chance to reconnect on some real shit. I would advise all of those who haven’t witnessed a Roots show yet to do so. You will not be disappointed.
I was reading a review on the KEXP site for this show and was a little irritated by some of the comments made about the band needing to reconnect with their “Roots“. The author compared Black Thought to a relief pitcher dragged out by the band in there times of need. I made a some contradictory points in the comment below the article, but they were “mysteriously” erased later. This shit pisses me off about fans and reviews. Bands, people…everything is constantly changing, evolving and whatnot. The music evolves, but the most common comments made by people are “Their just not like they used to be,” or, “They just don’t sound the same”. First of all, I don’t know what their smoking, the band originated with Thought and Love and, if go all the way back and listen to the Organix album and then throw in Rising Down, it’s clear that Thought and Love are still doing the same shit. Not much has changed except for the new additions to the band, which has been happening since they started. You’ll always have the people who have listened to a band since the beginning and get mad when they decide to do something different, like they have some sort of say in the direction the group wants to go into, or the band starts generating an income/fan base, and starts playing bigger venues and people get pissed and say they sold out. FUCK THAT! How many musicians dream of making money doing what they love, especially right now with the way the internet has changed the music business. It’s getting to where the only way to survive is to pack a nice venue and even MTV doesn’t play videos anymore. As long as the creative independence is involved in the making of your art, you are not a sell out. If you can make money doing what you love, more power to you. If you don’t like what other bands are doing. don’t listen to it, stop being a groupie, and make your own shit. That’s my opinion, and they say that they’re like assholes,right? So im going to be one. Take it or leave it, The Roots rocked and I’ll see them any time they come to Seattle.
All photographs featured were taken at the Portland, Oregon performance and are courtesy of Arian Stevens.