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 →
“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 →
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 →
The Roots gave a performance unlike anything they’ve ever done when they took the stage with The Dallas POPS Orchestra — and guests like keyboardist Erykah Badu, Robert Glasper, Chaka Kahn and more – to celebrate their Night of Symphonic Hip Hop concert at the Music Factory, and it was absolutely unreal. There were so many levels added to fan-favorite Roots songs with the help of a symphony to back them up, and this powerhouse band held nothing back. It was an enigmatic collaboration that we didn’t even know we needed. Watch the performance below. Continue reading →
For Atlanta-to-Philly rapper STS and multi-instrumentalist / producer Khari Mateen, combining their musical powers for epic results is no new phenomenon. It comes naturally to these extended Roots crew members, and this smooth easiness emanates from every fiber of their new track, “Better On A Sunday.”
With Mateen grounding the track in slow-tempo bluesiness through achey guitar twang and the soulful, steady chorus, STS peppers in texture as he raps verses in tribute to the everyday blue collar worker. Continue reading →
Two hundred and sixty three songs. The Roots have written and recorded 263 songs for their next album. Now, after we all take a moment to stare blankly in confused awe for a few seconds, I think this is the part where we plebeians who are not The Roots go and bow in grace and honor to the musical wizards that they are. Continue reading →
Jimmy Fallon is lucky to have The Roots as his house band for The Tonight Show. Pretty much every night he gets to hear the Philly legends, and for Monday’s episode, though, it was a little more amazing than usual.
The Roots had the musical performance to play out the night’s show. Their longtime collab partner and soulful wizard Bilal joined them with vocals of his own, as well as a sizeable orchestra, for a rendition of “It Ain’t Fair,” a song from the soundtrack of the new movie Detroit. I already wanted to see the movie. Now I absolutely have to. Continue reading →