Before they were Jimmy Fallon’s house band, and before they had their own annual picnic along the Deleware River, The Roots were a buzzing Philadelphia hip hop group on the brink of releasing their first major-label record. That was 1995, and Peabody Award-winning producer Steve Rowland was on site to get the entire career-changing experience on tape. The Temple University film school graduate was producing a 13-hour audio documentary called “The Music Makers” to examine “the creativity and devotion to music of six influential or visionary contemporary acts.” Along with the up-and-coming Roots, the series spotlighted Patti LaBelle, Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana, George Clinton and The Neville Brothers. Speaking to the inclusion of The Roots in the otherwise well-established roster of subjects, Rowland said:
When I was working with them, they were just about to release their first record. At that point, most people aren’t documented because they aren’t famous, and I wanted to explore what that period in a group’s existence is like.
The Roots’ segment, titled “On the Road With The Roots,” followed the young band as they embarked on a tour following the release of Do You Want More?!!!??! on Geffen Records in early 1995. With insight into band dynamics, label dynamics and mini bios on bandmembers, the documentary offers a rare look at the beginnings of a local hip hop group on the verge of international acclaim.
When The Music Makers documentary originally aired in 1996, WXPN ran episodes of the series every week. You can now stream an excerpt of the documentary on The Roots, narrated by Cornel West, below and download the entire two-part segment here. You can also look at some really cool black-and-white pictures by photographer Dominic Digiorgio documenting The Roots’ 1995 album release show here.