50 years ago this winter, the NoCal psychedelic pop band Spiral Staircase released their biggest hit single, “More Today than Yesterday,” and this week Philadelphia sons The Roots paid tribute to the song in a closing segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The performance is set on the Django stage of the Roxy Hotel in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, and features Black Thought delivering some of the classic crooning we heard him debut with the “Conception” single last year, working the high notes on the prechorus and everything. Continue reading →
Beloved Philly hip-hop trailblazers The Roots are moving across town this year. After a decade at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing, the annual Questlove-curated Roots Picnic has found a greener and more spacious home in West Philadelphia’s Mann Center for the Performing Arts. As Quest wrote on Instagram, “finally we have GRASS to have a real picnic!”
The festival is set for Saturday, June 1st, and the band is using the occasion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its breakthrough album Things Fall Apartby performing it in full…though, since this is The Roots we’re talking about here, don’t expect a note-for-not recreation. Continue reading →
“We had given most of our adult lives to that point to the band. What if success never came to us, or never came in the form we expected? – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia in the mid-to-late 90s, radio was a really big deal. Guided by that old algorithm of the human spirit, a handful of radio shows and the DJs and personalities that captained them fed and diversified my ever-growing musical appetite, from J. Michael Harrison’s electric Jazz fusions on Temple’s The Bridge, to the quirky Indie Rock of the Sarah and Laurie Show from Princeton’s WPRB. I’d bounce off my bedroom walls to sounds of mainstream Alternative Rock on Y-100 and fall asleep to the ambient soundscapes of John Diliberto’s Echoes and Chuck Van Zyl’s Star’s End on WXPN.
Like many kids, I’d often call into radio stations and request whatever songs I wanted to hear. Unlike most kids, the budding archivist in me would compel me to press record on my combination radio / cassette deck each time one of my request calls made it on air or my name was shouted out by a show’s host. By the time I graduated high school and I had filled up a tape of my radio mentions and shout outs.
One night, a new song by Philadelphia’s own The Roots had come across the airwaves and floored me. Slick and modern, the song fused lovelorn verses from Black Thought and a pre-fame / pre-Ruff Ryders Eve with a killer hook sung by Erykah Badu (and written by Jill Scott). Two bars into the song’s final chorus, the plodding, straight-forward drum beat that Questlove had held lockstep for the entire song transformed into something altogether different. Continue reading →
We’re a little obsessed with the idea of love here in Philadelphia, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Maybe it’s iconic status of Robert Indiana’s pop art sculpture on permanent display downtown, maybe it’s embedded in the very DNA of our name. And maybe, just maybe, it’s the amount of pop music we’ve produced over the decades, testifying to eternal devotion in its various forms. Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia begins with “Act Too (The Love of My Life)” from The Roots’ 1999 album Things Fall Apart.
We commonly think of love songs as celebrations of person-to-person love, which is sort of a limiting view. Sure, you could argue that this is the only form of love that can truly be reciprocal, but it is hardly the only form of love that is important. We can love places, we can love ideas, we can love art forms that motivate us and inspire us and push us to be better humans. And that’s the sort of love that comes into play on The Roots’ “Act Too (Love of My Life),” a stand-out song from their breakout album, 1999’s Things Fall Apart.
Over an expanse of five dreamlike minutes — loops of steady trumpet drones, lilting flute melodies, suave wah-wah guitar, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s dulcet but determined drumming — MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter opens the scene from the stage as he’s about to break into a rhyme, a setting lifted and expounded upon a few years later by Eminem in “Lose Yourself.” In that time-frozen moment, Thought stares “with my eyes closed and dove / Into the deep cosmos.” What thoughts are going through his head? Questions of how he got where he got, questions of what helped him along the way; not just helped, what guided him, what made his ascent possible on the most basic level of existance. Continue reading →
Philadelphia hip-hop heroes The Roots broke new ground on February 23, 1999, with the release of their album Things Fall Apart. It was the album that produced their highest-charting Billboard hit at that point (“You Got Me”), it was the album that solidified their tastemaker status (the record introduced names like Eve and Jill Scott to wide audiences), and it was an album born of the intense creativity of the Soulquarian music community (featuring collabs with D’Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, and Mos Def).
Twenty years later, this February 23, a new generation of Philly hip-hop peers will pay tribute to this landmark record with a show downstairs at World Cafe Live. Continue reading →
First and foremost, a huge thank you to every single teacher out there for all of their hard work. Without them, we all wouldn’t be where we are today. Tuesday was Teacher Appreciation Day, and The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon did something pretty freakin’ awesome to celebrate.
Fallon pulled a few teachers from the audience to ask a little about themselves. Afterward, each teacher was serenaded with a song about themselves by Philly’s hip-hop heroes The Roots. Lead MC Black Thought’s freestyling skills shined, incorporating “ABC” by the Jackson 5, “Stir Fry” by Migos, and “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. I was LOLing when Questlove ad-libbed during the Stir Fry when he shouts “French Fry” — It was perfect. Continue reading →
For the past six years, the recordings of Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti have been reissued in a series of limited-edition vinyl box sets, curated by peers and fans including Questlove (2011’s volume 1), Ginger Baker (2012’s volume 2), and Brian Eno (2014’s volume 3).
The latest installment, Fela Kuti Vinyl Box Set 4, was just released this past Friday, and curator Erykah Badu took to the stage of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last night with her old buds, The Legendary Roots Crew, to perform a medley of Fela’s “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” — from the 1977 album of the same name, recorded with Afrika 70 — alongside her own “On and On” from 1997’s Baduizm. Continue reading →
The Legendary Roots Crew played an epic Tiny Desk Concert in DC over the weekend, and the whole place was bouncing. Most artists fill their slot at NPR with two or three songs, but The Roots were jamming out to one song, twelve minutes, eight people crammed behind the desk brass band style.
The song is a new one called “It Ain’t Fair,” and featured fellow Philly native Bilal on vocals for a performance of enormous proportions. A true ballad, it began quietly, with the drums and the tuba taking reigns on the rhythm. Then, in full force, the rest of the brass joined in, and it was electric. Bilal has a voice reminiscent of Prince, and I drew the connection instantly. So soulful and jumpy, he truly stole the show when he walked in a few minutes into the song. Continue reading →