Power of Soul

The new Roots album has some feeling nostalgic.

By Craig D. Lindsey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 23, 2008

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Illustration by Alex Fine

This week the Roots drop their 10th album Rising Down. It's quite an impressive feat that ?uestlove, Black Thought and their crew of instrument-wielding hip-hoppers have been around long enough to hit such a milestone. The Wu-Tang Clan have been around just as long as the Roots, and those lazy bastards have only half the releases. (To be fair, totalling all the solo albums and albums by Wu affiliates easily comes to about a million.)

Listening to Rising Down I couldn't help feeling nostalgic. I caught myself thinking back to all the times listening to their albums, seeing them perform live or actually talking to a couple of them over the years.

I first really got into the Roots when I heard "The 'Notic," the tune they did with D'Angelo (not to be confused with "The Hypnotic," from their 1996 Illadelph Halflife album, which also includes D'Angelo), on the Men in Black soundtrack. Interesting side note: ?uestlove hooked up with D'Angelo on the track only to make up for brushing off the idea that he should drum on D'Angelo's debut Brown Sugar. Needless to say, ?uestlove has said it remains one of the biggest mistakes of his career.

Anyway, back down memory lane. I didn't get hardcore Rootsy until '99 when they dropped their commercial breakthrough Things Fall Apart, which people were touting as the last great hip-hop album of the 20th century. (Looking back, it kinda was.)

The first time I saw the group was in a midsized venue in Houston, Texas, and there was something special in the air. The venue they played was packed so tight with people that when the Roots eventually performed, they had to stop midset when fire marshals jumped in and told people--including the Roots--to clear out. Even though many pissed-off audience members left in disgust, ?uestlove and co. got back to performing nearly an hour later.

Four years later they came back to H-Town to promote Phrenology. Sadly, ?uestlove wasn't there due to a family emergency, but the band soldiered on. After 20 or so minutes of performing, Black Thought once again put the show on pause. "I know there's some muthafuckin' doors that can be opened," he said, complaining of the club's unbearably oppressive heat. "I'm not getting any ventilation up here." After threatening to stop performing unless it got cooler, he and the band left the stage.

Oh shit, this can't be happening again!

After 11 minutes of will-they-or-won't-they speculation, the band came back onstage. "We'll try to get the shit back on the road," Thought said as club employees swiped a big fan from the upstairs lounge to cool everyone down. Fortunately, shit got back on the road, and the guys gave a memorable performance. When they showed up again months later, doing an energetic set during one of those summer package tours, it was thankfully interruption-free.

I haven't seen the Roots live since, instead catching them on CD with their latest releases and even going back to pick up albums I missed the first time around like Do You Want More?!!!??!

I've caught ?uestlove a couple times: once seated in the audience during the Stevie Wonder concert here last November (oh, that was a beautiful evening, wasn't it?), and just recently when he spun records for a college function in North Carolina (also interruption-free) just two days before the Roots were scheduled to play the Apollo in Harlem. Before he showed up to spin, he rapped with me about the band and the upcoming album. He also spoke briefly about a work ethic that helps explain the group's longevity.

"We work 300 days a year," he said.

I guess when you're a workaholic band like the Roots (out of all contemporary rap groups, they've certainly been the most present and most rewarding in my lifetime), releasing 10 albums isn't such a big deal after all.

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