In the early 90s, conscious rap was at its peak. Groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest helped start the movement in hip-hop and it resulted in conscious hip-hop becoming popular enough for other artists to rise. The Roots was formed in 1987 by MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and DJ/drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. The Roots was different from other hip-hop groups of the time because of their use of a live backing band led by Questlove on drums. Later on, the group added a second MC, Malik B., to their lineup. They released their first album, Organix, independently in 1993. The album drew attention from record labels and as a result, the group eventually signed with DGC Records.
Two years after the release of Organix, The Roots released their label debut record for DGC. The album was appropriately titled “Do You Want More?!!!??!” The album was well-received overall and produced three singles including the hit track “Distortion to Static.” The song is a perfect example of how The Roots formulated their songs. It consisted of two verses with each MC taking a turn rapping. The lyrics are delicately arranged and show just how talented these rappers are. In the background of the song, Questlove showcases his ability to layer the perfect beat to match the vibe of the rhymes.
Their third record, “Illadelph Halflife,” was released the following year and received even more attention. The opening song on the record titled “Respond/React” sets the pace for the album and displays an edgier, in-your-face tone. Malik B. enters the second verse with full force: “I drive down streets and take back route-positionin’ / When I’m in your system like glycerin / Fans listenin’, from Michigan to Switzerland.” The power and a hint of cockiness displayed in the tone of the track makes it abundantly clear that The Roots had established their desired fame.
The Roots released their fourth album in 1999 under the title “Things Fall Apart.” Despite what the title may suggest, this is quite possibly the most famous album released by The Roots and features an all-star cast of guest appearances including DJ Jazzy Jeff, Common, Mos Def, and Erykah Badu. The album’s title comes from a novel by Chinua Achebe. The photo on the cover of the record was taken during the Civil Rights Movement. It depicts riot police chasing two black teenagers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, N.Y. Unfortunately, Malik B. left the group after the release of the album due to creative differences. However, he still occasionally makes appearances on The Roots’ records.
In 2009, The Roots became the house band for the late night talk show, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Interestingly, the group used the gig to debut the first single from their ninth studio album, “How I Got Over,” which was released in 2010.
The Roots have released a total of 10 studio albums. The most recent album, “Undun,” was released in 2011. The record was a concept record and told the fictional story of Redford Stevens. According to Questlove, the group is currently back in the studio working on a new album.