The Roots

The Roots. © Def Jam

The Roots of The Roots:

The Roots' co-founders Black Thought and ?uestlove met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts in an unusual manner. ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson) recalls, in a 2008 Rolling Stone interview, that he was on his way to class when he saw a guard pulling a kid by the ear. That kid was an incoming 9th-grader named Tariq Trotter (that’s Black Thought for the uninitiated), who had just been busted getting some from a ballerina in the bathroom. The two Philly-bred youngsters became good friends afterward. The Roots formally formed as a live band in 1987 under the stage moniker Square Roots.

Members of The Roots:

  • Black Thought (Lead MC)
  • ?uestlove (Drums)
  • Kamal Gray (Electronic Keyboard)
  • Captain Kirk (Electric Guitar)
  • Frankie Knuckles (Percussion)
  • Owen Biddle (Bass)
  • James Poyser (Keyboard)
  • Tuba Gooding Jr. (Tuba)

Former Members: Leonard "Hub" Hubbard (Bass); Malik B (MC); Scratch (Beatbox); Rahzel (Beatbox); Scott Storch (Electronic Keyboard); Ben Kenney (Electric Guitar); Dice Raw (MC)


The group's rich passion for music led to gigs at local talent shows and street corners. (Here's a little known fact: ?uestlove sometimes rhymed on early Roots records.) Thanks to their dedication, the group was invited to perform in Germany. Before leaving for Europe, the Roots strung an album together as a promotional tool at their shows. This first album would come to be known as Organix.

When they returned to the United States, the group was bombarded with recording offers from various companies. They settled with DGC/MCA Records and jumped right into their major debut.

Do You Want More?!!!??!:

?uestlove and co released their first major album, Do You Want More?!!!??!, in 1995. It was a groundbreaking album that offered a peek into the incredibly experimental approach to music that the Roots would later hang their hat on. Having skipped the conventional rap album blueprint, the Roots opted for innovative rhymes and a distinctly jazzy soundbed instead. The Roots weren't joking around when they named their first album "Organix." Do You Want More?!!!??! was 100% sample-free, no additives.

Higher Altitudes:

As pioneers of the live-rap movement, it's not an exaggeration to say that the Roots were in a world of their own. They later added instrumentalist and music producer Scott Storch and Kamal (Keyboards) to their permanent lineup. (Storch later left to pursue his beatsmithing career.)

Despite their success, the Roots always seemed to be seeking out new ways to propel their craft to higher altitudes. Enter Illadelph Halflife, in which the group sampled themselves as a response to those who dismissed the live instrumentation on Do You Want More?!!!??!

Things Fall Apart:

Third time was indeed the charm for the Roots, as their 3rd major album finally brought them some much-deserved recognition. 1999's Things Fall Apart was met with great fanfare and critical praise. It scored the Roots their first Grammy award for the smash single "I Got You," alongside Erykah Badu and was later certified Gold by the RIAA.

The Move to Def Jam:

Fed up with the label situation at MCA/Geffen, the Roots inked a new deal with Def Jam, then headed by Jay-Z. Their Def Jam debut, Game Theory continued a tradition of intelligent rhymes, socially conscious lyrics, and meticulously crafted beats. In 2008, they unleashed another politically salient album in the form of Rising Down.

Late Night House Band:

On March 2, 2009, the Roots began a tenure as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Devout Roots fans need not panic. The Philly crew is not retiring from hip-hop. In fact, they still plan to hit the road 10 weeks every year.

Their new late-night gig did little to stifle the crew's creativity. In June 2010, the Roots released How I Got Over, a year-end favorite among critics. It ranked #3 on this site. In 2011, they released undun, a concept album about a street hustler who dies in reverse.

The Roots are undoubtedly one of the most important bands around, not just as hip-hop greats, but as model musicians.