Published on December 13th, 2018

The Roots by @iamsuede

At the root of The Roots lies the Native Tongues hip-hop movement, with its upbeat and eclectic Afro-positivity cast as a challenge to gangsta rap. De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and Monie Love advanced a rival philosophy in lyric and sound to the gunplay and fatalism of N.W.A. and Mobb Deep.

These parallel lines finally crossed; hip-hop today makes room for moody romantics like Drake and thug idols like Gucci Mane, sometimes on the same track. But if Native Tongues hadn’t come along, maybe rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, teen-aged classmates in the late ’80s at a Philadelphia arts magnet school, would have invented something like it on their own.

From Trotter and Thompson busking around the “Illadelph,” the Roots grew into a project combining turntablism and beat boxing with traditional instruments. They were a full-on hip-hop band. With an evolving lineup anchored by the founding duo, the Roots courted the mainstream but mostly colored outside standard music industry lines. Their Soulquarian collective, with collaborators including D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Tribe’s Q-Tip, was a direct descendant of Native Tongues. Their 2002 mini-hit, “The Seed 2.0,” was a jam without genre built on a hypnotic guitar hook and a lead vocal by soul singer Cody Chestnutt, reinterpreting a song he’d written for an album of his own.

When Jimmy Fallon tapped them as musical foils for his NBC “Late Night” show in 2009, the Roots became a household name. Almost two decades of hustle had led to one of the most famous regular gigs in all of music. The Roots’ profile rose further in 2014 when Fallon took over “The Tonight Show.”

Here in 2018 Trotter, Thompson and friends are dropping a new album, “End Game,” their first in four years. Working in television has limited their touring, but grown their potential audience, and they’re still writing bangers and putting on a peerless live show. The December mini-tour that brings them here may find “The Most Legendary Hardworking” Roots playing to hip-hop heads as well as soccer moms. 

The Roots play 9pm on December 30 at the Fillmore in Miami Beach, $66-$84. ~ Tim Moffatt

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