From their 1993 debut album Organix, to their first major label release of 1995’s Do You Want More?!!??!, The Roots began to push the musical boundaries of contemporary hip-hop. They achieved platinum and gold album and received a number of Grammy Awards. After The Roots gained a nightly nationwide audience, as the house band for TV host Jimmy Fallon, they continue to challenge listeners with their original music that broadened the rap and hip hop genre. They expanded the possibilities of hip hop by utilizing many instrumentalists, even a featured a sousaphonist. The Roots are often described as alternative rap, a genre that refuses to conform to rap stereotypes such as gangsta or hardcore. The Roots have an eclectic approach that builds on great grooves, a strong jazz influence, and a high level of musicianship.
The Roots (1989-present) were formed in Philadelphia, PA by rapper Tariq Trotter (AKA Black Thought) and drummer Ahmir Thompson (AKA ?uestlove) when they met in high school with Questlove playing bucket drums and Black Thought rapping over his rhythms. They next played a school talent show under the name Radio Activity and then changed their name to Black to the Future and then The Square Roots. Black Thought and ?uestlove added bassist Leon Hubband (AKA Hub), rapper Malik Abdul Basit-Smart (AKA Malik B.), bassist Josh Abrams (AKA The Rubberband), keyboardist Scott Storch, and MC Kenyatta Warren (AKA Kid Crumbs) to form the first version of The Roots. In 1992, they dropped the “Square” from “Square Roots” because a local folk group had claim to the name.
The Roots had some difficulty breaking into the music scene. Their strategy was to move to London and release their 1993 debut, Organix. Over the next year, they toured all over Europe and developed a small following. This eventually worked when the Roots received offers from music labels. This led to The Roots being signed with DGC/Geffen records. The band next released their first major-label album, 1995’s Do You Want More?!!!??!. Unlike other hip-hop records at the time, this album was produced without any samples or previously recorded material. It peaked just outside the Top 100 of the Billboard 200 and the band performed at the Lollapalooza music festival that summer. They soon added human beatbox Rahzel the Godfather of Noyze (previously of Grandmaster Flash) and Scott Storch (later replaced by Kamal Gray) to the group. The Roots next released 1996’s Illadelph Halflife with sampled material that they had recorded earlier at jam sessions. Their third album, February 1999’s, Things Fall Apart, was a critical and commercial success. It went platinum, and “You Got Me,” a collaboration with Erykah Badu won a Grammy in the category of Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
The Roots went on to release a number of innovative albums including; 2002’s Phrenology, 2004’s The Tipping Point, and 2006’s Game Theory.The late J Dilla is honored throughout Game Theory. 2008’s Rising Down, was released to coincide with the 16-year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Next followed 2010’s How I Got Over, and 2011’s Undun. In 2013, The Roots and Elvis Costello released Wise Up Ghost. Next, The Roots joined Jimmy Fallon in his new late-night slot, the high-profile Tonight Show TV show. A concept album, 2014’s …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, followed.
Rapper Malik B., a fixture on the Roots’ early albums, died on July 29, 2020, at the age of 47. Leonard Hubbard, aka Hub, died on December 16, 2021 from multiple myeloma; he was 62 years old. In October 2016, The Roots released their 17th studio album, End Game.
From a drummer’s perspective, ?uestlove is one of the best in the business. He possessess a strong combination of deep grooves, a feel for multiple genres, and a musical sensibility to always play the right things for the music. The Roots have successfully fused genres such as jazz, rock, funk, and hip hop like no band before them or since. Their musicality and collection of innovative, highly skilled musicians that have forged a unique place in the hip-hop genre.