A history lesson – The Roots

History – reproduced with the kind courtesy of www.wikipedia.com, the Free Online Encyclopdia. Article reference – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_roots

Origins and Organix

The group’s original lineup was formed in Philadelphia around 1987. They began to do shows around Philly and in 1992 or 1993 left to perform in Europe. They rented out a flat in London and performed in Europe for approximately one year. In order to sustain themselves financially, The Roots released what would be known as their debut album: Organix. The album went on to sell about 150,000 copies. Following the release of Organix, several major record labels offered deals and the band signed with DGC Records, which at the time was better known for its grunge music releases. With their new record deal, the quintet travelled back to the states.

Do You Want More?!!!??!

The Roots’ first album for DGC, Do You Want More?!!!??! (recorded live without the use of samples), was a moderate hit on alternative radio. Also lauded for its jazziness, the album was equal parts jazz improv/instrumentation and rap music. It featured the songs “Distortion to Static” and “Proceed.” It reached gold status in 2005, with sales of 501,000 copies.

Illadelph Halflife

The 1996 release Illadelph Halflife was the group’s first album to crack the Top 40 on Billboard’s album chart, spurred in part by MTV‘s airplay of the video for “What They Do” (a parody of rap video clichés) and “Clones,” which was their first single to reach the top five on the rap charts. “What They Do” was also the group’s first single to hit the Top 40 of Billboard’s charts, reaching a peak of #34. While continuing on the path of live instrumentation, the album’s sound was somewhat darker. Attempting to appeal to a wider audience, the band begun integrating programmed drums and samples into their sound, though they only sampled their own music. It was also The Roots’ first album to include prominent guests, such as Common on “UNIverse At War”, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu on “Hypnotic” and Q-Tip on “Ital (The Universal Side).”

Things Fall Apart

Despite rumors of a possible break up, the group stayed together and released Things Fall Apart in 1999 (named after Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe). This was their breakthrough album sales-wise, peaking at #4 on the Billboard 200 charts and earning a gold record, signifying U.S. sales of at least 500,000 units. The track “You Got Me,” duet with R&B singer Erykah Badu, peaked inside the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and earned them a Grammy award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group.

Like “Illadelph Halflife“, TFA was not quite as jazzy as previous works, instead incorporating more neo-soul influences. First-time cameos on TFA for Philly natives Beanie Sigel and Eve helped to earn them major record deals later (with Roc-A-Fella and Ruff Ryders, respectively). After this album, Dice Raw left the collective to record his solo debut album, Reclaiming the Dead.

The group’s popularity continued to rise through the album. With a Grammy under their belts, they were able to perform an extended set at the now infamous “Woodstock ’99“.


A hectic time ensued for The Roots; several members left; including long time member Malik B. Their popularity increased with their sales and a spot backing Jay-Z for his MTV Unplugged album. With heightened popularity came mounting pressure. The Roots released Phrenology (named after the pseudoscience of Phrenology) in 2002, which took a turn away from their jazz and soul influences and further into rock territory. The group lost many of their original fans with this new sound, but gained some others at the same time. Despite not charting as high as Things Fall Apart, reaching a peak of #28 on the charts, Phrenology was commercially successful, eventually going gold, and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.

During this time the band also backed Jay-Z for his 2003 farewell concert in Madison Square Garden, and appeared in the accompanying “Fade to Black” DVD.

Tipping Point

After Phrenology, Ben Kenney and Scratch both left the group. Their major label deal with Geffen began to sour as pressures were mounted on the group to sell more records. This culminated with the release of 2004’s The Tipping Point, which took its name from a 2000 book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The album earned two more Grammy nominations: one for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the track “Star” and another for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for the track “Don’t Say Nuthin’.”

It debuted at #4 on the Billboard album chart, selling over 100,000 copies in its first week of release, but failed to go gold. Subsequently, the group left the label after the album’s release. Contractual obligations resulted in the release of Home Grown! The Beginner’s Guide To Understanding The Roots, Volumes 1 & 2 in 2005, a two-disc compilation album.

Game Theory

The Roots’ newest album is entitled Game Theory, and was released August 29, 2006, on Def Jam records. ?uestlove describes the album as being very dark and reflective of the political state in America. [1] The first single from the album, “Don’t Feel Right”, appeared on the internet in May 2006, and is available for free download on several web sites. Various guest appearances had been rumored, but Scratch Magazine confirmed only two: Peedi Peedi and Malik B. The late J Dilla also produced one song on the album. The album’s first video, titled “The Don’t Feel Right Trilogy”, premiered on August 21, 2006, and features three songs, “In the Music”, “Here I Come” and “Don’t Feel Right”. Despite critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album, Game Theory has sold significantly less than the band’s previous releases.

Rising Down

During an interview with MTV, shortly after the release of Game Theory, ?uestlove said that The Roots are already working on their 10th album. “As of this speaking, anything to do with the term ‘game theory’ is strictly past tense only”, he said, clearly still relieved that the album is finished. “I’m working on [album] number 10 right now — I want to be the first rap artist to actually make a good 10th record, that’s my goal. [We’re already] four songs into the next project.”[2]

?uestlove also states in a recent interview with Billboard that the new Roots album will be released on April 29, 2008.[3]

In an interview, AllHipHop.com reports that the title of the tenth Roots album is Rising Down. [1]

The band tours extensively, and their live sets are frequently hailed as the best in the hip-hop genre. Recently, the band played a concert in NYC’s Radio City Music Hall with Common, Nas, Talib Kweli and Big Daddy Kane. They also backed Jay-Z a third time, for his Reasonable Doubt Concert, a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the release of his first album. The Roots have been featured in three movies: Dave Chappelle’s Block Party; both performing album songs and playing as a backing band for other artists, Spike Lee‘s Bamboozled, and Marc Levin‘s Brooklyn Babylon, in which Black Thought plays the protagonist, Solomon, and former band member Rahzel narrates. Black Thought and ?uestlove were both featured in the movie “Brown Sugar,” and Black Thought also made an appearance in the film “Love Rome” as Tariq Trotter.

?uestlove reported that he is thinking of adding fellow Philadelphia rapper and Def Jam labelmate Peedi Peedi to the fold as a second group MC. Peedi recently guested on their latest album, and he will join for a set amount of time to “see how it goes.”[2] However, when recently asked about the issue, Black Thought responded: “Nah, he ain’t joining, he’s just family”. According to Black Thought, Rising Down will be out in November or December.[3] Recently in an interview on okayplayer interview, ?uestlove of The Roots says” Our new album entitled Rising Down will be out in April, 2008.”

On September 11, 2007, a Game Theory outtake, “Marathon Man”, was released as an exclusive e-single through itunes.


The Roots’ original lineup included Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter (MC) and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson (drums), who were classmates at the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts. As they began to play at school and on the streets, they added a bassist named Josh “The Rubberband” Abrams, who went on to form the jazz group The Josh Abrams Quartet. They later added another MC named Malik Abdul Basit-Smart (“Malik B.”), a new bassist Leonard Nelson Hubbard (“Hub”), and a keyboardist named Scott Storch, who eventually became one of the most prominent rap producers in the industry. Another MC, Kid Crumbs, was a part of the group for their first album, Organix, but did not appear on any later albums. Yet another MC, Dice Raw, joined on for cameos in later albums. Scott Storch also left to pursue a producing career following the Do You Want More?!!!??! album. The split, however, was on amicable terms: Storch continues to produce tracks for Roots albums to this day. The Roots filled his void with another keyboardist, Kamal Gray, who is still a member.

A beatboxer named Rahzel also joined the group and contributed from 19951999. Alongside Rahzel was vocal turntablist Scratch, who DJ’d for them during live concerts. He abruptly left in 2003. Malik B. left the group in 1999 due to drug problems but continued to record, making occasional cameos on future albums. A guitarist, Ben Kenney, had a short stint with the group and contributed to their Phrenology album, but left to join Incubus as their bassist. A percussionist, F Knuckles, was added in 2002 and guitarist, Kirk Douglas (a.k.a. “Captain Kirk”), replaced Kenney. A vocalist, Martin Luther, toured with The Roots in 2003 and 2004 and contributed to their Tipping Point album. The group announced in August 2007, to the dismay of fans, that longtime bassist, Leonard Hubbard, was leaving the group. “One of our partners is leaving us tonight, ladies and gentlemen, Leonard Hubbard” (Black Thought @ Moedown 8/31/07). The current members of The Roots are Black Thought (MC), ?uestlove (drums), Kamal (keyboard), F Knuckles (percussion), and Captain Kirk (guitar). Recently, they have generally toured with at least one horn player and bassist Owen Biddle.

All members have worked with PETA to promote compassion for animals and the vegetarian lifestyle.

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