Black Thought Says The Tonight Show Has Made the Roots a Better Live Band
Courtesy of the artist

Black Thought Says The Tonight Show Has Made the Roots a Better Live Band

"I like to say hip-hop was born when I was in my mother's womb," Black Thought says by phone right before he and his band the Roots take the stage as house band for The Tonight Show. "I was born in October 1971. It was documented that August 1971 was when Kool Herc created the culture of hip-hop."

Not long after, a young Tariq Trotter, who would later become known as Black Thought, was rapping in his hometown of Philadelphia. "The first rhymes I wrote, I was 9. It was Kool Moe Dee-style." In elementary school, he already had a rap group called the Crash Crew. It wasn't until he was a wizened high schooler and he met Ahmir Thompson, AKA Questlove, that the Roots began to form. With Black Thought on the mike and Questlove playing drums and other live instruments, the Roots quickly pushed the boundaries from the hip-hop template of a turntable and a microphone.

"What we were doing was alien in '92," Black Thought says. "We were less than immediately accepted by our fans and peers. There was a different standard in hip-hop culture. A couple people, like Queen Latifah, would have a live drummer, but for us to be onstage with an upright bass looked and felt foreign. Sonically, we had to be that much more proficient with freestyles to get an audience."

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But with 1995's Do You Want More?!!!??! the Roots began to find commercial success. Meanwhile, their live instrumentals made them one of the best hip-hop acts to catch in concert. They broke through to a whole other stratosphere in 2009 when they began collaborating with Jimmy Fallon, first as the talk-show host's house band on Late Night and then on The Tonight Show.

"We've been doing it ten years now. It's helped our live show evolve," Black Thought says. "If it was all-encompassing before, doing [The Tonight Show] has made us a more inclusive, universal experience. We were always mindful of doing something for everyone. Now even more so."

Miami can check out the Roots live experience at the Fillmore this Sunday, December 30. Since Black Thought recorded his excellent new solo album, Streams of Thought Vol. 2, in the Magic City, the place holds a new significance for him. "The Roots did some shows in Florida, so I came down to Miami to Salaam Remi's studio," he says. "We did the whole thing in two or three sessions. I wrote it all on the spot. Miami helped inspire me to create."

The album is the second of two solo records he released in 2018 after 25 years in the Roots. Why did he wait so long to go solo? "The Roots just hit free agency," he says. "We'd been signed to a label for 20-something of our 25 years. I was always working in the interest of the band. I began solo projects before but was always working in the interest of the Roots. Now, as a free agent, I can do what I like."

And what he likes might include taking the Roots in entirely new directions in 2019, he says. "We're producing on the TV and movie front. The Roots want to dip our toes into everything in the arts."

The Roots. 9 p.m. Sunday, December 30, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $66.50 to $85 via livenation.com.

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