Looking back at The Roots' sophomore album 21 years later.
In the 1990s, jazz-influenced rap was much more abundant than it is today. A Tribe Called Quest were sampling the classics, Gang Starr were churning out albums that did the same, and the likes of De La Soul and Digable Planets were also melting the music of yesteryear with the sound of the future. The jazz-rap sound was taken to the next level, however, when a couple Philadelphia cats with a big dream started taking music seriously.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter got together at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and bonded over a love for the early hip hop music that was being created at the time. After perfecting their craft through six years of practice, they self-released their album Organix! in 1993. The title is a nod to The Roots style which, at the time, was far more organic than any other hip hop group to ever come to prominence. If Organix! sparked the flame, Do You Want More?!!!??! saw the group fanning those embers into an impressive campfire.
“Proceed” is the first song, following the introduction, and remains a staple in The Roots catalogue and their live shows. “I shall proceed and continue to rock the mic,” is one of those unabashedly hip hop hooks that can get the crowd to wave their hands at any given time, even in modern day. The chemistry and charisma that The Roots had in this early period is best documented in their Montreux performance in 1994.
Before any real fame or financial success, it’s clear to see what the mission of this group was back then: to spread the gospel of hip hop and prove it to be a music of integrity through the live show. Not that the message has changed, because you can still go to a Roots show and get the most authentic, live-band, hip hop experience on the road, but obviously over 25+ years of doing this, some things have changed. Stylistically, they’d go on to dabble in rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, punk, more mainstream rap sounds, gospel, etc., but if there’s one major difference between The Roots of the 90s and The Roots of today is Malik B
On “Proceed,” Malik B caps the track off with a fire verse following Black Thoughts’ pair. He melts popular culture with the type of braggadocio that doesn’t boast of money, women, or drugs, but instead the ability to rock the mic.
“Johnny on the spot, got the rhythm and the rhyme
Fucking with The Roots, you know them niggas is the dime
I can make a hundred yard line start to dash
I can make a whole lake of fish start to splash
I can make Conan and the Titans clash
And I could make Metallica and Guns 'N Roses crash”
Malik’s contribution to the early Roots sound can’t be understated, and although Black Thought might have a little more airtime on the LP, his impact is felt throughout the release. On “Distortion to Static,” he drops lyrics that are on par with the greatest releases of the golden era…
“Now, go get your dictionary and your Pictionary
Cause much affliction with my diction friction slips and carries
Words and herds like some cattle in the steeple
People, there's no equal, or no sequel
So policies, of equalities, get abolished
Demolished, distortion of the static's gettin polished”
And even with Malik B’s crucial contributions, we can’t understate Black Thought’s lyrical prowess. The MC continues to be a top dog in the hip hop world even in 2016, with fire verses heard recently on Freddie Gibbs’ album as well as the latest PRhyme release.
On “The Lesson, Pt. 1,” Black Thought hints at the distinguishing factor that The Roots have in their music: the jazz element. “Shoulder the mic, still feel colder than before / With this jazz shit I hit your jaw / Dice Raw, get up on the mic, my young poor / I be the nigga blowin up the spot on tour.” The connection to jazz is somehow more of a rarity in hip hop, which seems to be closer to its musical forefathers like funk and soul. However, with The Roots’ live band element, they were even closer that Tribe or De La ever were, because they actually looked like a jazz band when they took the stage. Pair that with a good bit of improvisational moments and stellar musicianship, and what you have really isn’t such a far cry away from Miles Davis’ latter music.
The influence of their style was huge on artists in the years following the release of Do You Want More?!!!??! The likes of Erykah Badu, J Dilla, D’Angelo, Common, and many all owe at least a little something to The Roots’ steeze. Of course, all of the aforementioned names were a part of the legendary Soulquarians crew that released classic albums from each member during their years of productivity. The soulful, jazz-influenced, (dare we say) conscious, boom-bap style of rap had a lot of wheels around the turn of the millennium, and while it slowed down in the years following, it seems to be coming back in a big way these days.
Obviously Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly did wonders for injecting the live music sound back into hip hop, but artists like D’Angelo and Bilal have also released music that mixes jazz and funk with soul and hip hop over the past couple years. Now you can even see artists like Future and Wiz Khalifa live in concert with a backing bands, and it seems that it has been a steady trend ever since The Roots backed Jay Z on his MTV Unplugged special.
There’s something about fusing hip hop with the live music element. It truly helps to breathe life into the music, and it feels like a more encompassing experience when it’s more than just a DJ back there. It gives the music wings, integrity, and a fuller sound. The Roots, hip hop’s original band, are special for dozens of reasons, and one of the most obvious is their studio albums. Classics like Do You Want More?!!!??! helped to give hip hop credibility in a time where naysayers were still saying it isn’t real music. If you’ve ever seen them in action, you know that The Roots are not only music, but some of the best out there.