RIP: Richard Nichols, longtime manager and “guiding spirit” of The Roots

Longtime manager, friend, and “guiding spirit” of The Roots, Richard Nichols, passed away today.

The Roots released this official statement:

“The Roots Family are devastated to announce the passing of Richard Nichols, the band’s longtime manager, after a long battle with leukemia. Nichols, 55, a Philadelphia native, managed the band from its inception in 1992, and was instrumental in every aspect of The Roots’ creative, cultural, and professional life  over the past two decades. Nichols is survived by his wife, Mercedes Martinez, his sons Amiri Nichols and Rakim Nichols, his sisters Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Rebecca Dennis, his brothers Russell Nichols and Reginald Nichols, and the many individuals and artists he mentored in his lifetime.”

In Chapter Two of Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues, there’s an e-mail exchange between Quest’s co-writer, Ben Greenman, and the editor of the book, Ben Greenberg. In the e-mail, Greenman outlines the potential way in which Nichols can have an ongoing voice throughout the book. Greenman describes Rich:

Rich is supremely analytical, extremely verbal, and entirely determined to digest, process, present, and represent the Roots’ whole experience. He has been central to the growth of the enterprise – in helping to strategize the moments when they grabbed for the brass ring as well as the moments when they sat back and thought about what the brass ring meant. He conducts an ongoing interrogation about what it all means. What’s black culture? What’s hip-hop? What are the responsibilities of a society and the people in it? And his inquiry isn’t bloodlessly academic, either; there’s something very consequential about his approach.

I’ve had the privilege of a handful of dealings with Rich over the years, in the context of the music business and the various events and interviews WXPN has done with the band. When I read the above paragraph in Quest’s book, which came out about a year ago, I felt that Greenman expressed how I always felt about Rich, in the little that I did deal with him. What I noticed right up front when I did meet Rich for the very first time – I think it was at a Roots house party in Grays Ferry back in the early 90′s, I always admired Nichols’ thoughtfulness, as well as his incredible love of music. Perhaps it was the “consequential-ness” of his approach that I felt, but couldn’t articulate.

In addition to his work visionary work with The Roots, Nichols also held down production, mixing and Executive Producing duties for a number of records, including those by Al Green, Common, Jill Scott, Zap Mama, Jay Z, Elvis Costello, and others.

In his acknowledgments to Mo’ Meta Blues, Questlove offers a thank you to Richard Nichols: “For being in the lighthouse. Actually, I think you are the lighthouse.”

Our thoughts go out to Nichols, family, friends, and the entire Roots crew.


Watch the Philly 4th of July Jam with The Roots, Aloe Blacc, Nicki Minaj and more

Photo by Mark Stehle via
Photo by Mark Stehle via

Aloe Blacc, Jennifer Hudson, Ed Sheeran, Nicki Minaj and The Roots performed at the Wawa Welcome America on July 4th, hosted by Marlon Wayans. Joining The Roots were Philly R&B singer Bilal and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Earlier last week, Aloe Blacc stopped by WXPN to record a session for an upcoming World Cafe with David Dye.

Below, watch the July 4th Jam in its entirety via VH-1.


Stage tested, listener approved: The Roots brought a not-so-common breakfast jam to NYC Kelloggs event last week

Photo by Dana distortion Yavin
Photo by Dana distortion Yavin | via

Philly heroes The Roots had some fun with guests of a Kellogg’s event in NYC last Wednesday, according to this report from Brooklyn Vegan. The band, whose talents now include skillful mastery of spoon-and-bowl-playing, promoted the breakfast company with some tunes (including Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”) and complimentary bowls of cereal for each attendee. Head over to Brooklyn Vegan for the full gallery of photos from the event, which includes Tony the tiger grooving to their set. Check out some video below.


The Roots Picnic brings an inspired musical frenzy to the Festival Pier

The Roots and Snoop Dogg | Photo by Mark Schaffer
The Roots and Snoop Dogg | Photo by Mark Schaffer

The anticipation behind this year’s Roots Picnic could have easily evolved into a self-fulfilling letdown of high expectations gone unfulfilled. Fortunately for the sold-out crowd of over 6,000, the day met every benchmark for a phenomenal musical experience.

With the newly-renovated and sand-strewn Festival Pier as its home base, the all-day festival boasted an eclectic line-up of both upstart and established acts of various genres. All acts shared the Questlove seal of approval, bearing a heavy emphasis on rhythm and sunny-day vibes.

Janelle Monae | Photo by Mark Schaffer
Janelle Monae | Photo by Mark Schaffer

Although every act of the day put on a frenzy-whipping set (the strongest of them being, arguably, a sunset-backed and pitch-perfect Janelle Monáe), there were a few noteworthy highlights:

-    An inspiring group of sets in the first half of the festival (prior to most attendees’ arrival) with particularly strong ones from New Zealand RnB group Electric Wire Hustle, hip-hop/classical sequence-loops master Emily Wells, blues-rock guitarist and singer Roman Gianarthur (including soulful covers of Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady” and Radiohead’s “High and Dry”), West Philly’s own Chill Moody, and British drum-and-bass act Rudimental (during which this reporter felt bass shocks that almost stopped his heartbeat)

-    Guest appearances from Philly’s own Freeway and Harlem’s Jim Jones during a DJ set from legendary producer Just Blaze, with Freeway performing State Property hits like “Roc da Mic

The War on Drugs | Photo by Mark Schaffer
The War on Drugs | Photo by Mark Schaffer

-    A searing performance from WXPN favorites The War on Drugs, during which frontman Adam Granduciel gave Program Director Bruce Warren a heartwarming shoutout (referring to him as “The Other Boss”)

-    The aforementioned strongest set of the day, starting with The Electric Lady herself being wheeled out on a stretcher in a straitjacket before tearing through most of her hits with uncompromising intensity

-    The Roots (post-Snoop Dogg) bringing out Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie, and former member Rahzel for an epic rendition of several popular songs showcasing all three of their legendary beatboxing.

Check out photos from the day’s festivities, taken by local musician and photographer Mark Schaffer, in the gallery below.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: The Menzingers at Union Transfer, The Roots Picnic at Festival Pier, Thee Idea Men at MilkBoy and more

Photo By: Rachel Del Sordo
Photo By: Rachel Del Sordo

Scranton punk favorites The Menzingers will headline Union Transfer tonight. Just last month, the band released its fourth full-length album Rented World with a surprise CD release show at Golden Tea House, followed by an acoustic set in WIlkes-Barre. Their new album takes a surprising new direction, with nods to 90s alt rock, but still contains the Menzingers’ signature pop-punk hooks. Check out their previous studio session and get more information on the show at the XPN Concert Calender. 

Continue reading →


Mixtape Monday: Okayplayer presents the Roots Picnic mixtape

The 7th Annual Roots Picnic is this Saturday, May 31st at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing with Snoop Dogg, Chill Moody, Janelle Monáe, Action Bronson, ASAP Ferg, Jhene Aiko, The War On Drugs, Biz Markie, and more. Matthew Law, (FKA as DJ PHSH) released a Roots Picnic mixtape via Okayplayer guaranteed to get you ready for the big show next Saturday. Go here for tickets and more information about the show.

Dig into the mixtape below.


Watch The Roots perform “Never” on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon

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The Roots stepped out of their house band role last night into the musical guest spot, and with help from DJ A-Trak and the Metropolis Ensemble performed “Never” from their just released …and then you shoot your cousin on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. The stunning, celestial song, featuring Philly musician Patty Crash on vocals, was performed against an all white backdrop that visually captured the starkness of the song. The Roots will be in town for their annual Roots Picnic on Saturday, May 31st.

In his review of the album, The Key’s Sameer Rao wrote:

The Roots, to their immense credit, continue to leverage their immense fame and success to make aurally inventive music that opens worlds that other artists on their level are afraid to touch. …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is a definitive affirmation of this band and genre’s true Roots, as well as crystal clear proof of its continuing innovation and relevance to the immensely complicated world around us.

Read the full review of the album here. Watch “Never” below.


Review: The Roots champion innovation on another game-changing LP, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

Romare Bearden’s collage “Pittsburgh Memory,” the cover art for The Roots’ …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

It’s easy to forget that The Roots spent most of their career in an extremely different place than they are now.

Years of increasing acclaim as a live act and reverence for drummer/producer/ideologue Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s idiosyncratic vision – one that put him and other group members in the nexus of a turn-of-the-millenium revolution with Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, the late great J Dilla, and others – do not measure up to the intense fame and ever-growing public stage that they occupy as Jimmy Fallon’s house band. What could have been the introduction of terrible stasis, in which our beloved home town heroes trade artistic viability for the empty spectacle of primetime fame, ended up being their greatest blessing.

Now, The Roots are a veritable enterprise. They decimated and rebuilt the house band tradition with agility and irreverence. Frontman Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter has continued to stretch his underrated creative muscle as the head of his own side project, an actor, and a philanthropist. Most notably, Questlove has solidified his reputation as the hip hop generation’s main public intellectual by authoring a remarkable memoir and series of critical theory-laced essays on the pop culture vortex that surrounded this group of Philly prodigies and carried them to their current vaulted heights.

Remarkably, they have time for the one thing that every diehard Roots fan was afraid of losing – great, game-changing albums. Three of them, in fact, since they hopped on Fallon’s road to unpredictable success (if you don’t count their handful of flashy, fun collaboration albums). The third of these and their eleventh overall, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, officially dropped today via Def Jam. The concept album functions both as a definitive statement and a continuation of the evolution charted since 2010’s How I Got Over. Continue reading →


Listen to The Roots new record …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin at Pitchfork, get amped for The Roots Picnic

4a28f9aeAs we’re getting our sunscreen and stamina ready for The Roots Picnic on May 31st, we’re also gearing up for the release of …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, the legendary Philly hip-hop band’s eleventh studio album. The record is out Tuesday, but you can get a sneak preview between now and then by checking out the album streaming in full over at Pitchfork Advance. We’re taking our first spin through right now, and it sounds like the album elegantly recorded and evocatively structured, with hints of everything from 20th century classical (atonal Philip Glass crescendos, what?) to trip-hop (Massive Attack moments) and dubstep (of the Deadmau5 sort) – and of course ?uestlove’s trademark big drum sound. Cousin boasts a freaking cavalcade of people who worked on it, too, including Philly crew The Wurxs, Dice Raw and Greg Porn (check out the full credit list here). The Roots Picnic – featuring The War on Drugs, Janelle Monae, Snoop Dogg and more – happens all day on May 31st at the Festival Pier at Penn’s landing, and tickets / info can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Below, check out the lyric video for “When The People Cheer.”


Listen to a new song by The Roots, “Tomorrow,’ featuring Raheem DeVaughn

Raheem DeVaughn – Photo courtesy of the artist

The Roots have shared another new song, “Tomorrow,” from their forthcoming album, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. The album is out on May 13th. R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn grabs all the spotlight on this mid-tempo feel good song. Based on a simple piano chord progression and a beat that falls just short of a breezy reggae tune, the song has no rapping at all. The beginning of “Tomorrow” opens up some whistling and a lilt that begs comparisons to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” with the sentiment of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

Listen to “Tomorrow,” today, below. The Roots’ host the 7th Annual Roots Picnic on May 31st at the Festival Pier with Janelle Monaé, War On Drugs, Action Bronson, Rudimental, a DJ set from Biz Markie, A$AP Ferg, Jhené Aiko, araabMUZIK, Just Blaze, Bad Rabbits, Chill Moody, and more.