“You are all….You are all about to witness, some organic hip-hop jazz. 100 percent groove. And ya don’t stop! It’s from The Roots. Philadelphia-based rap group. Now check, check. Imma start it like this. Yo, dig it:”
About a week ago, The Roots’ major label debut, Do You Want More?!!!??! turned 20 years old, and I was swept by a rush of memories. This was the album that established The Roots as the greatest live hip-hop act in the world. Up until this point, all hip-hop knew was a DJ and MCs, but the Philly crew turned this notion on its head with a full band led by drummer ?uestlove, backing MCs Black Thought and Malik B, and a human beat-boxer named Rahzel.
[jump] Through all of hip-hop’s ups and downs over the past 20 years, The Roots have stood as one of the genre's constants. Making music in the same way they always have: groovy and soulful while remaining conscious and stoic. Do You Want More?!!!??! set the precedent for hip-hop jazz fusion, a subgenre whose surface had been scratched by The Digable Planets and Guru before it. But more importantly, it established one of the most timeless acts in hip-hop history.
The album’s intro flows into “Proceed,” which is still a staple at every Roots show. Black Thought made a promise in the lines “I shall, proceed, and continue, to rock the mic!” In effect, he’s never stopped, and remains one of the best MCs in the game. When he reminisces about an early performance in the upcoming documentary about the album, Thought laughs at the group’s appearance and says “I was like a fake Jamaican dude.” And he even rapped like one on “Mellow My Man,” a track that spawned their early vernacular. Dudes were goin’ around calling each other “My mellow” on the regular.
But for me, in my college days, there was nothing like blasting “Lazy Afternoon” on my speakers on a hungover Sunday morning. This was hip-hop, but this was also a band. They grooved like a jazz collective, complete with the female vocalist singing the hook.
Next thing you know, ?uestlove and Rahzel are trading blows on the drum set and beatbox on “? vs. Rahzel” and it represented a unique take on the elements of hip-hop. This is what The Roots did: Not only were they were more hip-hop than anyone, they had more fluidity and freedom in their experimentations, like a silky saxophone on the album’s title track. The same saxophone pairs with an upright bass on “Swept Away” as Black Thought drops gems like:
Crazy cardiac my attack on any fat, rhythm
That I capture kid, I snatch the mic from tykes
While I proceed and continue, to tend to
Business, cause this is how I do
An outro alludes to “There’s something go on” and it was clear that this “something” is a project unlike no other. Do You Want More?!!!??! was a major “step-your-game-up” call across hip-hop that no other group ever seemed to match, but did their best to get on this level.
The album’s crowning moment comes on “Silent Treatment,” which stands as a defining R&B/jazz classic. It used hip-hop to express raw, lovelorn emotion; hip-hop was tailor-made for this, and seldom was it ever so true and pure.
Fast forward to 20 years later. The Roots are the house band on The Tonight Show and they still find time to tour regularly, coming to San Francisco and other major cities just about every year. ?uestlove has assumed the role of hip-hop Renaissance man, previously established by forefathers like Mos Def and Common. He penned his memoir, Mo’ Beta Blues, in 2013, scored Chris Rock’s recent movie, Top Five, and is seemingly at the center of every conscious hip-hop discussion today.
This is my modest love letter to an album that we might sometimes take for granted. It spawned a career for The Roots that now spans 15 LPs, each with their own character and style, but all of them conceived inthe spirit of the live jazz/hip-hop fusion of Do You Want More?!!!??! I can pinpoint the moment where my love affair with hip-hop went to that “forever” level and it was seeing The Roots play live with Jurassic 5 when I was 16.
I’ve never looked back.