Spreading Our Roots

    As much as I’d like to stifle the most-likely frightening turnout for 2007’s highly anticipated FallFest — which should see record-breaking attendance, if body count pays any worthy tribute to the headliner’s brain-exploding range of ability — there is no place you could more beneficially locate yourself this Friday night than in RIMAC Arena, snuggled up to a stage full of players that will hereafter lift our musical present onto the good-’ol-day pedestal. Now, if only for the sake of our legacy-hungry grandchildren, we must lay aside all on-campus, A.S. snubbing (because let’s face it, they done very, very good), and do ourselves the favor of bearing witness to what might possibly be — step right up, one night only — the greatest fucking show on earth.

    Boss Ditties:

    ORGANIX (1993)
    Boss Ditty: “Pass the Popcorn”
    {grate 3}

    Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995)
    Boss Ditty: “Mellow My Man”
    {grate 3.5}

    Illadelph Halflife (1996)
    Boss Ditty: “Push Up Ya Lighter”
    {grate 3}

    Things Fall Apart (1999)
    Boss Ditty: “Act Too (Love of My Life)”
    {grate 4}

    The Roots Come Alive (1999)
    Boss Ditty: “You Got Me”
    {grate 3.5}

    Phrenology (2002)
    Boss Ditty: “Sacrifice”
    {grate 4}

    The Tipping Point (2004)
    Boss Ditty: “Star/Pointro”
    {grate 2}

    Home Grown! The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Roots (2005)
    Boss Ditty: “Essaywhuman?!!!”
    {grate 3}

    Game Theory (2006)
    Boss Ditty: “Long Time”
    {grate 3.5}

    For all the torrents of critical and fan-sent praise the
    Roots have waded through since their straight-outta-Philly arrival at the end
    of the ’80s (trotting in easily after socially conscious, alt-hip-hop
    predecessors like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul), the studio hasn’t
    always proven their ideal environment. Most of the Roots’ seven full-lengths
    are spent in a somewhat self-conscious limbo, fumbling for common ground
    between balls-out avant-garde and the beats/rhymes/life boom-bap they emulated
    as youngsters. Each album requires a more focused listen than your average
    backpacker is usually willing to give — demanding full attention and a good,
    hard chew — also telling of the stress that goes into their creation. Then
    there’s the fact that perma-member Black Thought (the Roots MC who didn’t get
    booted for dabbling in heroin) isn’t the most memorable of wordsmiths, not
    known for turning the trickiest of phrases — even occasionally falling below
    the curve with simplistic state-of-the-world commentary like “It’s like a game
    of roulette, the barrel revolving/ They only wanna see us occupying a coffin.”

    All this would mean certain death for any other
    middle-of-the-road, lineup-fluctuating posse. But here’s where a critic’s
    babble fades and the Roots take the stage.

    Thing is, these guys can play. Their standard jewel-case
    routine serves only as an industry buoy, and a way to keep their live setlists
    fresh. Black Thought’s every last forgettable lyric becomes a brilliantly timed
    placeholder, coming to life over a rich instrumental backdrop: currently,
    Kamal’s keyboards, F. Knuckles’ exotic percussion, Captain Kirk’s retro guitar
    and, most famously, ?uestlove’s helter-skelter drumset assault, taking a
    natural life of its own under its master’s wiggling afro.

    There’s a reason the Roots are the go-to name-drop for every
    case defending hip-hop as musical, unpredictable and otherwise equal to the
    rest of the genres: These are not mere hip-hoppers but brimming sponges,
    working to recreate every nuance of every radio hit and moment of intrigue
    they’ve stumbled across in a lifetime.

    With each performance — neon lights darting off Black
    Thought’s aviators, remix building upon remix for a James Brown-like majesty —
    the Roots draw closer to an untouchable cult status not unlike that of the
    Grateful Dead (sans decaying complacency, of course), complete with their very
    own set of Deadheads. But unifying stage-side awe is not just for the tie-dyed
    stoners anymore: These royalty of rap-rock manage to appeal to practically every
    ear with even the slightest appreciation for virtuosity — and a damn good beat
    to boot.

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