“Philly, all we ever wanted to do was make you proud of us,” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson told the crowd assembled at the schoolyard of World Communications Charter School on South Broad Street.
Rising above the wall behind him, splashed in dramatic blues and oranges and pastels, you could see his likeness hitting the drums, along with the various other members of The Roots. A year and some in the making, The Roots mural was dedicated this afternoon with the full band on hand, as well as the artists from Amber Art and Design, Mayor Michael Nutter and Mural Arts Program Director Jane Golden.
The event, which drew a couple hundred family, fans and onlookers, kicked off with DJ PHSH spinning a continuous mix of Roots nuggets on his turntables. (Highlight: hearing “Meioso,” the collaboration between MC Black Thought and DJ Krush, into “Rolling With Heat” off of 2002′s breakout LP Phrenology).
Nutter stepped to the podium shortly before noon, hailing The Roots as “not only Philly’s house band, they’re the world’s house band.” He reminded the crowd that the long-running, Grammy Award-winning group got its start as the project of two friends from CAPA – the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, just a few blocks south on Broad Street.
“You never know what our young people can do unless you invest in them and support them,” Nutter said.
Golden echoed these sentiments, saying how the mural was just one piece of the year-long project, which also included a Roots 101 curriculum for youth in Mural Arts’ education program that highlighted music, art and entrepreneurship – or as Golden put it, gesturing to the mural behind her, “what it takes to make your mark on the city in a big, bold, inspiring way.”
Golden was literally jumping up and down as she brought The Roots onstage (“I love you guys,” she could be heard saying to Thompson) and the band was gracious and a bit at a loss for words at the sight of themselves painted on the side of a building in their hometown.
“I’m glad this is in South Philly,” Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter told the crowd. “This is where I’m from.”
Ernel Martinez of Amber Art and Design, the artist group behind the mural, said he’s been a Roots fan “since they came out. It’s an honor to do something on their behalf. I’m glad they dug it.”
Thompson, who kept his earlier remarks brief, later went on Instagram with more composed thoughts:
Wow Philly. Thank You. 21 years ago this Saturday two high school graduates tried their luck at *busking* on 5th & South Street to make “date money” and cop some Girbauds. 21 years & 10 blocks later we return to the scen—nope–the dream of the crime. Incredible Journey. Wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you @muralarts & @michael_nutter & @knightfdn & @gsteuer.
Check out photos from the dedication ceremony in the gallery below. The 6th Annual Roots Picnic takes place tomorrow at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing; in addition, the Roots Rock Run takes place that morning.
Photo by John Vettese