roots

The Roots

The Roots is as fluid and amorphous as the hip-hop culture that spawned it, ever-shifting and ever-changing. The influential and critically acclaimed Philadelphia-based septet has won numerous accolades for its jazz-influenced, eclectic approach to hip-hop, including two Grammys and a 2007 NAACP Image Award. Its audiences are as diverse as its music, playing everywhere from Lollapalooza to the Montreux Jazz Festival, from Lincoln Center to the Apollo Theater.

Innovators in rap and hip-hop, The Roots began focusing on live instrumentation in recordings and concerts in 1987 when rapper Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) and drummer ?uestlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts. Forsaking the usual hip-hop protocol, The Roots produced its first major-label album, Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995), without any samples or previously recorded material, and made a name for itself by defying conventional genre classifications with guest appearances by such varied artists as singer Cassandra Wilson and saxophonist Steve Coleman. The group has since become known for its complex and politically aware lyrical content ranging from topics of violence and crime, to poverty, guns, and the drug culture that plagues its hometown of Philadelphia. The Roots continue to push the boundaries of hip-hop, recently making the bold move to perform Bob Dylan’s 1963 classic “Masters of War” before a sold-out audience at the Apollo. On its 2002 Phrenology CD, The Roots worked with activist and Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka.

In the years since its debut album Organix, The Roots has become ubiquitous producers and collaborators, working with some of hip-hop’s most illustrious practitioners, including MCs Mos Def, Styles, Talib Kweli, Common, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. ?uestlove has collaborated apart from The Roots with such artists as neo-soul singers Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. He is also known for his production and drumming, collaborating with a wide range of musicians who include Christina Aguilera, Fiona Apple, Zap Mama, Al Green, Bilal, Joshua Redman, and others.

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Music by Laura Karpman, on a text by Langston Hughes
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Jessye Norman