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Rap Biographies: The Roots

The Roots
The Roots are an influential Philadelphia-based hip hop group, known for innovative lyrics and live instrumentation. Inspired by the "hip-hop band" concept pioneered by Stetsasonic, the Roots themselves have garnered critical acclaim and influenced later hip-hop and R&B acts.

Though popular success has largely eluded the Roots, the Philadelphia group showed the way for live rap, building on Stetsasonic's "hip-hop band" philosophy of the mid-'80s by focusing on live instrumentation at their concerts and in the studio. Though their album works have been inconsistent affairs, more intent on building grooves than pushing songs, the Roots' live shows are among the best in the business.

The Roots' original lineup included Black Thought (MC vocals) and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson (drums), who were classmates at the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts. As they began to play at school and on the streets, they added another MC named Malik Abdul Basit-Smart, bassist Leonard Nelson Hubbard, and a keyboardist Scott Storch. Another MC, Dice Raw, frequently made album appearances with the group from 1995 to 1999 before pursuing a solo career. Scott Storch also left to pursue a highly successful producing career following the Do You Want More?!!!??! album, though the split was on amicable terms, and Storch continues to produce tracks for Roots albums to this day.

The Roots filled his void with another keyboardist, Kamal who is still a member. A beatboxer named Rahzel also joined the group and contributed from 1995-1999. Alongside Rahzel was vocal turntablist Scratch, who greatly contributed to The Roots' sound, most notably in live concerts. He abruptly abandoned the group in 2003. Malik B. left the group in 1995 due to drug problems but continued to record making occasional cameos on future albums. A guitarist, Ben Kenney, enjoyed a short stint with the group and contributed to their Phrenology album, but left to join Incubus. A percussionist, Knuckles, was added in 2002 and guitarist, Kirk Douglas (a.k.a. "Captain Kirk") replaced Kenney. A vocalist, Martin Luther toured with The Roots in 2003 and 2004 and contributed to their Tipping Point album. The current members of The Roots are Black Thought (MC vocals), ?uestlove (drums), Hub (bass), Kamal (keyboard), Knuckles (percussion), and Captain Kirk (guitar).

The Roots' debut album, Organix, was actually a live recording from a concert in Germany that the Roots sold at their shows. The album earned enough industry buzz to earn the Roots offers from major record labels, and they signed with DGC Records, which at the time was better known for its grunge music releases.


The Roots' first album for DGC, Do You Want More?!!!??! (recorded live without the use of samples), was a moderate hit on alternative radio. Their 1996 release Illadelph Halflife was the group's first album to crack the Top 40 on Billboard's album chart, spurred in part by MTV's airplay of the video for "What They Do," a parody of rap video clichés such as the "beatdown shot," and "Clones" which was their first to single to reach the top five on the rap charts.

In 1999, The Roots released Things Fall Apart (named after Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe), their breakthrough album, peaking at #4 on the Billboard 200 charts and earning a gold record, signifying U.S. sales of at least 500,000 units. The track "You Got Me," duet with R&B singer Erykah Badu, peaked inside the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and earned them a Grammy award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group.


In 2000, Dice Raw left the group to record his solo debut album, Reclaiming the Dead.


2002's Phrenology introduced a more mainstream sound for the Roots, and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. The album's sales were boosted by radio and TV airplay for two duets on the album, "Break U Off" (featuring Musiq Soulchild) and "The Seed 2.0" (featuring Cody ChesnuTT). The video for "The Seed 2.0" earned a nomination for the MTV2 Award at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. "The Seed 2.0" was also featured on the soundtrack to the Mandy Moore movie Chasing Liberty. Despite not charting as high as their previous release, peaking at #28 on the charts, Phrenology was certified gold in June 2003.

The Roots' 2004 release, The Tipping Point, took its name from a 2000 book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The album earned two more Grammy nominations: one for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the track "Star," and another for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for the track "Don't Say Nuthin'." The album was an immediate hit, debuting at #4 on the Billboard album chart and selling over 100,000 copies in its first week of release.

On November 15, 2005 The Roots released two compilation albums, Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Roots, Volumes 1 & 2. These two separately sold discs are a compilation of past hits, live performances, and rare remixes compiled by ?uestlove himself. They also feature 70 pages of liner notes written by ?uestlove. These two albums marked the Roots' last releases on Geffen Records.


The Roots' upcoming album is entitled The Game Theory, and will be released August 29th, 2006 on Jay-Z's new imprint, Def Jam Left [1]. In 2006, they were featured in Dave Chappelle's Block Party.


The Roots have also been featured in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" and Marc Levin's "Brooklyn Babylon," in which Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought) plays the protagonist, Solomon, and former band member Rahzel narrates.



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