The Roots

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The Roots
The Roots 2007.jpg
The Roots performing in Toronto, Ontario on March 24, 2007.
Background information
Also known asThe Legendary Roots Crew, The Fifth Dynasty, The Square Roots, The Tonight Show Band
OriginPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
GenresAlternative hip hop, neo soul, jazz rap
Years active1987–present
LabelsDef Jam, DGC, MCA, Interscope-Geffen-A&M
Associated actsDJ Jazzy Jeff, Soulquarians, J Dilla, Jill Scott, Martin Luther, Jaguar Wright, Amel Larrieux, John Legend, Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, BT, Jazzyfatnastees, Big K.R.I.T., Jimmy Fallon, Elvis Costello
MembersBlack Thought
Kamal Gray
F. Knuckles
Captain Kirk Douglas
Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson
James Poyser
Mark Kelley
Past membersKenyatta "Kid Crumbs" Warren
Josh "Rubberband" Abrams
Malik B.
Scott Storch
Martin Luther
Ben Kenney
Dice Raw
Owen Biddle
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Not to be confused with Nappy Roots
The Roots
The Roots 2007.jpg
The Roots performing in Toronto, Ontario on March 24, 2007.
Background information
Also known asThe Legendary Roots Crew, The Fifth Dynasty, The Square Roots, The Tonight Show Band
OriginPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
GenresAlternative hip hop, neo soul, jazz rap
Years active1987–present
LabelsDef Jam, DGC, MCA, Interscope-Geffen-A&M
Associated actsDJ Jazzy Jeff, Soulquarians, J Dilla, Jill Scott, Martin Luther, Jaguar Wright, Amel Larrieux, John Legend, Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, BT, Jazzyfatnastees, Big K.R.I.T., Jimmy Fallon, Elvis Costello
MembersBlack Thought
Kamal Gray
F. Knuckles
Captain Kirk Douglas
Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson
James Poyser
Mark Kelley
Past membersKenyatta "Kid Crumbs" Warren
Josh "Rubberband" Abrams
Malik B.
Scott Storch
Martin Luther
Ben Kenney
Dice Raw
Owen Biddle

The Roots are an American Grammy Award-winning hip hop/neo soul band, formed in 1987 by Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The Roots are known for their jazzy, eclectic approach to hip hop which includes live instruments.[1] Malik B., Leonard "Hub", and Josh Abrams were added to the band, originally called The Square Roots.

Since their first independent album release, the band has released 10 studio albums, two EPs, and two collaboration albums, and has collaborated with a wide range of artists from different genres. The Roots served as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from 2009 to 2014, and on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon since 2014. The Roots' work has been repeatedly met with critical acclaim. ranked the band #7 on its list of the 25 Best Hip Hop Groups of All-Time, describing them as "Hip hop's first legitimate band."[2]

Band history[edit]

Rapper Black Thought is the lead vocalist of The Roots.

Early history[edit]

The Roots originated in Philadelphia with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter while they were both attending the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. They would busk out on the street corners with Questlove playing bucket drums and Tariq rapping over his rhythms. Their first organized gig was a talent show in 1989 at the school where they used the name Radio Activity, which began a series of name changes that progressed through Black to the Future and then The Square Roots. [3] Prior to the release of Organix, an issue arose with the name. A Philadelphia folk group had claim to the name and to avoid legal wrangling they simply dropped the "Square" aspect and became The Roots in 1992.


Organix was the band's first album, released and sold independently. It was released in 1993. It generated enough industry buzz for offers from music labels, and the band signed with DGC/Geffen.

Do You Want More?!!!??![edit]

The Roots' first album for DGC, Do You Want More?!!!??!, was released in 1995. It was a moderate hit among alternative music fans due in part to the group's appearance at Lollapalooza. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival that year. Touring guests, beatboxer Rahzel and producer Scott Storch, joined The Roots.[4]

Illadelph Halflife[edit]

The 1996 release Illadelph Halflife was the group's first album to break the Top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart,[4] spurred in part by MTV's airplay of the video for "What They Do" (a parody of rap video clichés)[5] and "Clones", which was their first single to reach the top five on the rap charts. "What They Do" was also the group's first single to hit the Top 40 of Billboard's charts, reaching a peak of #34. While continuing on the path of live instrumentation, the album's sound was somewhat darker.

Things Fall Apart[edit]

The group released Things Fall Apart in 1999 (named after Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe, which in turn was named after a line from "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats). This was their breakthrough album, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 charts and earning a gold record, signifying U.S. sales of at least 500,000 units.[6] The album was eventually certified platinum in April, 2013. Mos Def contributed to the track entitled "Double Trouble". The track "Act Two" features African-Belgian band Zap Mama and Common. The track "You Got Me", a duet with R&B singer Erykah Badu and Eve and Jill Scott intended by Black Thought for the "unconscious" population,[7] peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. At the 42nd Grammy Awards "You Got Me" won the award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group[8] and the album was nominated for Best Rap Album.[9]

Steve Huey of the website allmusic perceived "a strong affinity for the neo-soul movement" in the album.[10] First-time cameos on Things Fall Apart for Philadelphia natives Beanie Sigel and Eve helped to earn them major record deals later (with Roc-A-Fella and Ruff Ryders, respectively). After this album, Dice Raw left the collective to record his solo debut album Reclaiming the Dead. In the summer, the band performed at the Woodstock '99 concert in New York state.[11]


Several members, including longtime member Malik B., left the group. In December 2001, The Roots backed Jay-Z for his MTV Unplugged concert.[12] With heightened popularity came mounting pressure. The Roots released Phrenology (named after the pseudoscience of phrenology) in 2002. Despite not charting as high as Things Fall Apart, reaching a peak of No. 28 on the charts, Phrenology was commercially successful, being certified gold, and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. At the time, however, there came rumors that The Roots were losing interest in their signing with MCA.[4]

During this time, the band backed Jay-Z for his 2003 farewell concert in Madison Square Garden, and appeared in the accompanying Fade to Black concert film.

The Tipping Point[edit]

After Phrenology, Ben Kenney and Scratch both left the group; Kenney joined the rock band Incubus.[13] This culminated with the release of 2004's The Tipping Point, the byproduct of several jam sessions.[4] The album earned two more Grammy nominations: one for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the track "Star/Pointro" and another for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for the track "Don't Say Nuthin'."[14] The Tipping Point peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart. In 2005, Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Roots, Volumes 1 & 2, a two-disc compilation album, was released. The Roots were among several performers on the 2006 film Dave Chappelle's Block Party, whose event took place on September 18, 2004[15] and was released on film two years later.[16]

Game Theory[edit]

Game Theory was released August 29, 2006, on Def Jam records. Questlove describes the album as being very dark and reflective of the political state in America.[17] The first single from the album, "Don't Feel Right", appeared on the internet in May 2006, and is available for free download on several websites. The album's first video, titled "The Don't Feel Right Trilogy", premiered on August 21, 2006, and features three songs, "In the Music", "Here I Come" and "Don't Feel Right". It earned an 83 on Metacritic and 2 Grammy Nominations. The late J Dilla is honoured on different occasions throughout the album. Track 1 is credited to be "Supervised by J Dilla". Track 13 "Can't Stop This" is devoted to his persona, the first part being an edited version of a track ("Time: The Donut of the Heart") of his Donuts album, released three days before his death. This version comprises vocals by Black Thought. Secondly, a string of kindred artists reminisce about J Dilla in the form of answering machine messages.

Rising Down[edit]

The Roots' eighth studio album, Rising Down, was released on April 29, 2008, the 16-year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

In the weeks before the album's release, the original first single "Birthday Girl", a radio-friendly collaboration with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump was removed from the album reportedly because it didn't fit in with the album's tone.[18] It remained as a digital download available from iTunes as a bonus track, as well as on international releases.

Picking up where Game Theory left off, the album maintains a dark and political tone, with Black Thought and several guests venting about the ills of society today. The album's guests include Chrisette Michele, Common, Mos Def, Saigon, Styles P, Talib Kweli, and Wale; it also features Philadelphia artists Dice Raw, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Peedi Crakk, Greg Porn, and Truck North, as well as former member Malik B. Rising Down features The Roots incorporating a more electronic and synth-heavy feel into their sound. Rising Down was released to critical acclaim, garnering an overall score of 80 on Metacritic.

The album's first single was "Rising Up" featuring Chrisette Michele and Wale.

How I Got Over[edit]

How I Got Over reflects the relief the band felt at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama presidency. Guests include Blu, Phonte and Patty Crash, whose song "Serve This Royalty" is covered on the album. Rather than relying on samples, the album was recorded live, with covers (including Celestial Blues, featuring the song's original artist, Andy Bey) being reinterpreted by the band.[19] The album was released on June 22, 2010.

On June 24, 2009, The Roots debuted the first single and title track from the album live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The song features longtime Roots collaborator Dice Raw.[20]

Wake Up![edit]

The Roots collaborated with R&B singer John Legend on the album Wake Up!. The album was released on September 21, 2010, and was publicized two days later with a live concert at Terminal 5 in New York City with John Legend and Jennifer Hudson that was streamed on YouTube. On October 30, 2010 The Roots and John Legend played live at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C.

Betty Wright: The Movie[edit]

The Roots collaborated with R&B singer Betty Wright on the 2011 album Betty Wright: The Movie, credited to Betty Wright and The Roots. The album, co-produced by Wright and Questlove, was nominated for a 2012 Grammy in the "Best Traditional R&B Performance".


The Roots released their thirteenth album Undun via Def Jam Records on December 6, 2011.[21] The first single "Make My" leaked on October 17, 2011. Undun tells the story of their semi-fictional character, Redford Stephens, who struggles unsuccessfully to avoid a life crime and fast money. The album's name is inspired by The Guess Who's song "undun", and the character was named after the Sufjan Stevens song "Redford".[22] The album features artists including Aaron Livingston, Big K.R.I.T., Phonte, Dice Raw, Greg Porn, Truck North, Bilal, and Sufjan Stevens.

Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs[edit]

The Roots and Elvis Costello released Wise Up Ghost on September 17, 2013 via Blue Note Records.[23] On July 22, 2013, they released a music video for the first single, "Walk Us Uptown."[24]

Upcoming work[edit]

In a July 2012 tweet, Questlove said that the title of The Roots' next album will have the initials &TYSYC and that it is being recorded currently, with a different sound to expect than from Undun. In the November 12, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, Questlove revealed that the album is tentatively named & Then You Shoot Your Cousin...[25] In an interview with Fuse TV Questlove said he would prefer to release an album in the first quarter of the year, and that he also had "...two or three secret, major musical projects that I'm working on that I can't really talk about."[26] February 2014 also marks The Roots' transition to the The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and at the end of the month, Black Thought described the forthcoming album as a satirical look at violence in hip-hop and American society overall.[27]


The Roots' original lineup included Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter (MC) and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (drums), who were classmates at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts.[4] As they began to play at school and on the streets, they added bassist Josh "The Rubberband" Abrams, who went on to form the jazz group The Josh Abrams Quartet. They later added another MC, Malik Abdul Basit-Smart ("Malik B."); a new bassist, Leonard Nelson Hubbard ("Hub"); and keyboardist Scott Storch. MC Kenyatta "Kid Crumbs" Warren, was a part of the group for their first album, Organix, but did not appear on any later albums. Another MC, Dice Raw, joined on for cameos in later albums. The Roots filled Storch's position with keyboardist, Kamal Gray, who continues to be a member. Kamal Gray has not played with the Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon since April or May 2012. No explanation has been given for his disappearance. On the September 17th, 2012 episode, which was also the 700th Episode, Kamal Gray was back playing with The Roots. This marked his return from several months of absence, but confirms he is still a member of the band. Beatboxer Rahzel was a member of the group from 1995 to 1999. Alongside Rahzel was vocal turntablist Scratch, who DJ'd for them during live concerts. However, he abruptly left in 2003. Malik B. left the group in 1999 due to drug problems but continued to record, making occasional cameos on future albums. Guitarist Ben Kenney, had a short stint with the group and contributed to their Phrenology album, but left to join Incubus as their bassist. A percussionist, F Knuckles, was added in 2002 and guitarist, Kirk Douglas (a.k.a. "Captain Kirk"), replaced Kenney. Martin Luther, a vocalist, toured with The Roots in 2003 and 2004 and contributed to the Tipping Point album. The group announced in August 2007 that longtime bassist, Leonard Hubbard, was leaving the group. Owen Biddle was the bassist from 2007-2011, followed by Mark Kelley.

The current members of The Roots are Black Thought (MC), Questlove (drums), Frank Knuckles (percussion; also a former Protégé of Questlove), and Cap'n Kirk (guitar). Recently, they have toured with sousaphonist Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson and current bassist Mark Kelley.[28] For their performances on Jimmy Fallon, keyboardist James Poyser contributes additional keyboards.

The band announced on August 25, 2011 that Owen has left the band and will be replaced by Mark Kelley.[29]

Because the band members hail from Philadelphia and its surrounding area, they showed their support for the Phillies during the 2009 World Series against the Yankees, displaying Phillies memorabilia when performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the episode which aired the day after the Yankees clinched the title, Questlove stated "No comment!" on the show's intro (when he usually states the episode number), and had a Yankees logo purposely displayed upside-down on his drumset. In 2010, the group showed support for the Flyers during their run to the Stanley Cup Final by having the team logo on their drumset.

Band lineup[edit]

Questlove in discussion during book signing.
Current members
Former members


Legendary Roots Crew.jpg

Touring and other work[edit]

The Roots performing

The band tours extensively, and their live sets are frequently hailed as the best in the genre.[30] In 2006 the band played a concert in NYC's Radio City Music Hall with Common, Nas, Talib Kweli and Big Daddy Kane.[31] Also in 2006, they backed Jay-Z for his Reasonable Doubt Concert, a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the release of his first album.[32][33]

In 1994, The Roots appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time magazine. They have been highly involved in many other Red Hot Organization productions, including the 1998 album Red Hot + Rhapsody and the 2001 album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington.

The Roots have been featured in four movies: Dave Chappelle's Block Party, both performing album songs and playing as a backing band for other artists; Spike Lee's Bamboozled; Marc Levin's Brooklyn Babylon, in which Black Thought plays the protagonist, Solomon, and former band member Rahzel narrates; and Chasing Liberty, starring Mandy Moore. Black Thought and Questlove were both featured in the movie Brown Sugar. Black Thought made an appearance in the film Love Rome as Tariq Trotter, and Questlove currently appears in the recent documentary movie about TBC Brass Band called From the Mouthpiece on Back, which lists The Roots as one of the executive producers of the movie.

The band guest-performed with the Dave Matthews Band during their 2007 summer tour. Members of The Roots played in various forms as well as a whole band on DMB's back to back concerts at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. In 2007 the band performed at an NAACP tribute to Bono, covering U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)". Black Thought mixed in lines from the band's own "False Media".[34]

The group hosts a highly anticipated jam session every year the night before the Grammys.[35] The Roots jam session, produced by Okayplayer, Goodtime Girl Entertainment and Keldof, has been attended by celebrities ranging from Jay-Z, Beyoncé Knowles and Tom Cruise to Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven and Prince with impromptu performances from Snoop Dogg and Corrine Bailey Rae to Queen Latifah, Matisyahu, Fall Out Boy and Dave Chappelle.

Billed as The Roots, Questlove, Kirk and Owen made an appearance on The Colbert Report on April 15, 2008 when Stephen Colbert spent a week in Philadelphia prior to the 2008 Pennsylvania Democratic primary. During the appearance, they performed the intro song to the show, and closed the episode with a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner".[36]

The Roots are featured on the Men in Black Original Soundtrack (1997) with the song "The Notic" with neo-soul singer D'Angelo. The song "Here I Come" was featured in the movies Superbad and Hancock. "Here I Come" is also featured in many video games including Project Gotham Racing 4. The song "The Seed 2.0" featuring Cody ChesnuTT was featured in the movies Collateral and I Think I Love My Wife, as well as the Without a Trace episode "Candy." The song "Don't Say Nuthin" was featured in the first season episode, "Busey And The Beach" of HBO's Entourage. The song, "Guns Are Drawn", featuring Aaron Livingston, was featured in a season six episode of CBS' Cold Case.

They performed on the popular kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba, performing "Lovely, Love My Family" in 2008. They also did a secret jam session at the Oulipo Ballroom in Kentucky in 2009.[citation needed] In 2012 they played during the NHL Winter Classic at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia[37] and at Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) in Austin, Texas.[38] In 2013 they performed at the Gathering of the Vibes Music Festival at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut.[39]

The Roots host the Roots Picnic, an annual all-day music festival in Philadelphia, every June.[40]

Late Night and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon[edit]

In March 2009, The Roots became the new official house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with "Here I Come" as the show's theme.[41] When Jimmy Fallon became the host of The Tonight Show in February 2014, the Roots became the house band for that show.[42]

The Roots feature heavily throughout the show, providing the bumper music in and out of commercials, as well as the opening song "Here I Come" and playing the show off the air. Jimmy frequently interacts with the band during the course of the show, with them occasionally providing snippets of music for some monologue running jokes (such as Funkin GoNuts). They also provide music and drum rolls for the games with show guests, along with theme songs for the games and segments (like Darts of Insanity, Wheel of Carpet Samples, or Christmas Sweaters).

On November 22, 2011, US Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was a guest on Late Night. For her entrance, The Roots controversially played a snippet from Fishbone's 1985 song, "Lying Ass Bitch"[43] resulting in apologies from Jimmy Fallon,[44] Questlove for The Roots,[45] and NBC.[46] The incident nearly resulted in The Roots being dismissed from the show, but the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday and a national security gaffe[47] by Bachmann shortly after helped defuse the situation in the media.[48] As a result of the incident, NBC approves all walk on songs prior to filming each show.[48]


Awards and nominations[edit]


Studio albums
Collaborative albums

Track numbering[edit]

A distinctive feature of The Roots albums is the way tracks are numbered. With the exception of their collaboration albums, The Roots have used continuous track numbering beginning with their first studio album Organix through all following albums:[74]

Questlove references this numbering system in his book "Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove" (specifically to the release of Illadelph Halflife ), and that it was: "...our way of saying that it was a continuation of the work we had started on Organix and Do You Want More?!!!??!."[75]


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  3. ^ Thompson, Ahmir 'Questlove'; Greenman, Ben (2013). "Chapter 9". Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove publisher=Hachette Book Group. p. 88. 
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  14. ^ "Grammy Award nominees in top categories". Associated Press. 7 December 2004. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  15. ^ Patel, Joseph (7 September 2004). "Chappelle Throwing A Block Party With Kanye, Lauryn, Others". MTV News. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
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  20. ^ by gingerlynn on June 25, 2009 (25 June 2009). "Video: The Roots Perform NEW Single "How I Got Over" on Fallon « Okayplayer". Retrieved 2011-07-03. 
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  27. ^ ""
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  65. ^ Sia, Nicole (16 March 2013). "Here's Every Song in Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon's 'History of Rap, Part 4'". Retrieved 30 January 2014.  Unknown parameter |link= ignored (help)
  66. ^ a b Sia, Nicole (22 February 2014). "Here's Every Song in Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon's 'History of Rap, Part 5'". Retrieved 11 March 2014.  Unknown parameter |link= ignored (help)
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