Hip-hop heavy hitters grace San Diego

    To have one great hip-hop act in San Diego is a treat, but it’s almost unheard of to have three in one night. The Roots headline a three-act show at Jenny Craig Pavilion on April 23 with the Pharcyde and Cee-Lo that should prove to be one of the most memorable shows in recent memory. Both the Roots and the Pharcyde bear the reputations of being among the best hip-hop performers around.

    The Roots’ moniker seems to reference the “roots” of hip-hop — that is, they perform as a live band apt to incorporate jazz, funk, blues and rock into the formula. Despite this, the band has taken time to break through with fans of the genre. The Philadelphia-based group, formed by rapper Black Thought and drummer ?uestlove 15 years ago, has steadily moved from a promising underground group to an impressively bold entity at the forefront of musical adventurousness.

    The Roots’ place as an “alternative” hip-hop group was instituted in the 1990s by stints at Lollapalooza and albums that, while well-received critically, didn’t make a strong impact with record-buyers. The band was accused of being too heady and condescending to mainstream hip-hop. Their video for the song “What They Do” may have wickedly skewered rap video cliche with such labeled scenes as “the beat down shot,” but it did little to win over hip-hop fans looking for a record to groove to — not one to preach to them.

    In 1999, the Roots released their fourth album Things Fall Apart and the music world took notice. The excellent duet with Erykah Badu “You Got Me” (co-written by a then-unknown Jill Scott) won the band a Grammy. In 2002, the Roots released Phrenology, and while it was not a commercial smash, it became one of the most talked-about albums of the year, gracing various year-end lists and further establishing the group as mainstays.

    Though much has been made of Phrenology’s versatility, it is, in reality, a terrific hip-hop album with various influences thoughtfully incorporated. It’s not a “rap-rock” record; the extent of the “rock” is a 24-second hardcore punk workout entitled “!!!!!!!” and “The Seed (2.0),” a duet with soul-rocker Cody Chesnutt that is so supremely effective it should have been the biggest single of 2003. Elsewhere, the band delivers heavy no-nonsense rap in “Rock You” and elaborates their catchy hip-hop duet formula with Musiq on “Break You Off.”

    Perhaps most alarming is “Water,” a 10-minute addiction epitaph with an extended noise break that points further to Sonic Youth than De La Soul. Yet for all its conscious weirdness, Phrenology is a fun, exciting record that doesn’t feel as weighty as it could have. It shows the group refining its already ingenious approach and capturing the spirit of unscripted live performance on record.

    Performing with the Roots are the Pharcyde, one of the most inventive hip-hop acts of the past decade. Though they haven’t released an album in years, the oft-sampled Pharcyde are routinely mentioned as a highly influential group in expanding hip-hop’s horizons with a complex, almost psychedelic sound. Also performing is Cee-Lo, the former Goodie Mob rapper with a lauded new solo album, Cee-Lo Green … Is The Soul Machine. The chubby-yet-swank Cee-Lo rhymes with off-color sensibility in a throaty, recognizable voice that has won his work due attention, and the Timbaland-produced “I’ll Be Around” has gained him commercial footing as well.

    Tickets are $30 to the general public and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.

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