Since the start of their career, The Roots have pushed boundaries, set precedents and reworked standards. Famed for their pioneering use of live instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics, the group have enjoyed a diverse fan base from early on, their intoxicating sound captivating people from vastly different walks of life. Along the way they have collaborated with some of the biggest names, not just in Hip-Hop, but across music as a whole.
I am Hip-Hop were fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Black Thought as the group prepare for their upcoming London show at Brixton Academy……
Let’s start in the present, what’s going on for The Roots at the moment?
Yeah…well, what we have going on at the moment is our day job that we kind of do Monday to Friday……that keeps us moving, so we doing that during the week and then during the weekend we’re, you know, branching out, doing some sounds we do a bunch of festivals every summer, and then just a couple of club dates…so yeah, we doing that, and then we actually…we’re doing a couple of things…we’re doing some recording in conjunction with a couple of plays…one is about to open up on Broadway…so yeah, we got links in the theatre that way…and also, you know, we’re working on new Roots music, as always. We’re always doing, you know, like ideas, bookmarking…you know, ideas and concepts, things that we can refer to once we’re officially in the recording process. So we’re working on new Roots stuff, I’ve been doing outside work, I’ve done a little bit of recording with Scarface, I’ve done some recording with an MC named Freddie Gibbs from LA, he and I are kind of doing some stuff more recently…yeah, you know, we’re trying to keep busy.
And you’re over in the UK not too long from now…the show at Brixton…
Yeah, we’re really looking forward to coming back over there and playing Brixton, you know, always one of our favourite venues and London has always had a special place in our hearts, in that…in the 90s we were British transplant, so we lived right out there in Kentish town. So London, definitely since then, has felt like a second home, so yeah, it’s going to be a bit of a homecoming for us to get a chance to rock at Brixton
We’re really looking forward to the show…
I think this is our first official London gig with this player Mark Kelly in the band. The last time we played this venue, our bass player left the band that day, the bass player at that point of time, he left…he quit that day, and you know, he’s been replaced by Mark Kelly, who has been great, and I this is our first time back in London in the years Mark has been playing with us, so…yeah, I’m looking forward to getting off the ground and getting the chance to rock as the new Roots in London, the new incarnation.
I think what’s clear with the roots is the incredible crossover that you guys have, there’s such a diverse range of people that attend your shows…
Have you always had that, from the start of your career?
Yeah, from the start of our career we’ve always had an extremely diverse audience because we’ve never catered to any demographic specifically, we’ve always you know, shot universally, and we’ve always tried to play both sides of the shape and we always transcended gender and age and location and all that, and we’ve always had it, it still has grown, it’s obviously on a way larger scale now than, you know, it was in say 1993 or 95, but even then it was still the same sort of range in the audience.
I think as well, when you watch your live shows, the real individual element that you have is the live instrumentation, and obviously on the recordings as well, but seeing it live is incredible…is that approach what came naturally to you, to use live instrumentation so dominantly in hip-hop?
Well yeah, yeah, we’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that we’re able to be official with the live instrumentation, and you know, not overplay, not be overly musical, forcing a record or forcing a performance when it doesn’t necessarily call for that…so yeah, it’s always kind of been our thing, masters of live hip hop. Over time, the standard has changed and more hip-hop artists, and artists in general, are performing with a band now than did 15–20, even 5 years ago. So yeah, things just kind of came back around, full circle to what it is we do best.
I Am Hip-Hop is part of a youth focused charity…how have you used your music to give a positive message to the youth…
You know, earlier on, I feel like…it’s weird I keep saying earlier on, but yeah, when I was young I was speaking from experience, in that I was immersed in you know, all that I spoke, I was still living it. It was like I was literally removed, very literally removed from whatever it was that I was kind of, you know, speaking about in my work. But now I’m coming from more of a place of…you know, a story of tragedy to triumph, I feel like I’m a success story in that, the life that I lived at a young age, as a younger man…it’s led me to where I am today. That in itself is a chapter that…you know, being true and daring to be different and focusing, and being grateful for one’s blessings, you know what I mean?
I wanted to talk about the situation in the US at the moment, we see so much on the news about the tense situations you’re currently experience, how do you feel about what’s going on?
Yeah…I have lots of feelings about it…you know, I feel like what’s taking place in the United States right now and just with the climate, you know, in the world, it’s all indicative of world history and so many different issues that kind of all come into play. You know, I think it’s sad that like 3 times a week there’s such outrageous news that’s you know, prominent in the headlines, but that being said, I don’t think any of these stories…none of this is news, none of it is new and none of it, sadly, is really surprising, so I think it’s again sad that more of these issues are kind of currently coming to light, you know, with the advent of social media and just how rapidly something that takes place in a remote part of the world can become viral and can spread to the rest of the world…I think there is some good in that it’s helping to get the news out there to the world and to those to who it is a surprise, you know, there are some people who are shocked and in awe at the fact that these things are talking place in modern society…I’m not one of those people but there are people in the world who are really surprised by it, so maybe it will be a different sort of call to action, if that makes sense…yeah, I’m definitely saddened to say the least by everything that’s going on
Over the course of your career, you’ve worked with so many people, out of everybody, could you pick a favourite?
Hmmm….i don’t know that I can. If I did have a bucket list, I would say that most of the artists have already been checked off…there’s no one alive that I, really in my wildest dreams, ever thought of working with that I haven’t had the chance to in some shape or form, so that’s been a huge honour and a blessing and you know, some of these legends I was able to work with, you know…wow, while they were still here…like the B.B. Kings and the Bobby Womacks of the world, you know what I mean, it’s just a huge honour to have been considered a credible musician and vocalist by people of that stature and artists of that calibre, as well as by my peers, so it’s just a great thing. But there’s no one I can say has been my favourite.
Catch The Roots Live at Brixton Academy on Friday 10th July. For Tickets click here.
By Micky Roots
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