The Roots Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Things Fall Apart At The Hollywood Bowl
Photo of Questlove of The Roots at Cayuga Sound (Stewart Park) 9/23/17 by Cortney Armitage (@CortneyArmitage) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
LOS ANGELES, CA- On Wednesday, August 28, 2019, the Legendary Roots Crew descended upon the Hollywood Bowl, to perform a once in a lifetime concert to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the classic and groundbreaking album, Things Fall Apart.
I was about 16 years old, and a junior in High School, when my ears were first blessed with the sounds of the Roots. Back in 1995, the Roots released their second album, “Do You Want More?!!!??!” My daily routine when I was in High School was to go to school, play basketball at school, come home and watch Rap City on BET while I did my homework, and then go to the park to play some more basketball.
I can remember seeing the video for the Roots’ lead single, “Proceed”, and my jaw dropped. In the 1990s, much of Hip Hop was still being produced via sampling. The Roots were not just a Hip Hop group that could utilize sampling though. The Roots were a full band with musicians who are craftsmen and experts in their given field.
Questlove, easily the most recognizable member of the band, is a master of the drums, and a walking historian of music. There are not many people alive that know music like Questlove. Following Questlove on social media is like being a part of a history of music class. Black Thought is the band’s MC, aka, rapper/poet/lyricist. In Hip Hop circles, Black Thought is considered to be one of the best Rappers alive. His lyricism is complex, intelligent, witty, and powerful. Captain Kirk Douglas, is a master of the guitar. You could put the Cap against any famous guitarist, and he will not only hold his own but likely surpass them on sheer talent.
To appreciate the Roots, one must understand where they came from (Philadelphia! Which the band will remind you of throughout a performance), and who comprises of the band. In the simplest of terms, although the Roots did not start out with being known as the Legendary Roots Crew, their talent, hard work, and vision have enabled them to state without question, that they are in fact a Legendary band.
SPIN magazine called Things Fall Apart “a melancholy masterpiece” when it was released. Things Fall Apart was considered to be the Roots “break through” album. The album had multiple hits, including the Hip Hop classic, “You Got Me,” featuring Erykah Badu (though was originally performed by Jill Scott). The album was so successful that it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album, only to lose out to Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP. Not many artists can stop the juggernaut known as Eminem.
In a way, having The Roots perform the whole album reminded me of decades ago where we would buy an album on cassette tape and listen to the entire A/B side without forwarding or skipping because it was too big of a pain in the rear-end to fast forward songs. It was a different way of listening to music back then. In a way you were “forced” to listen to an entire album. It was not like these days where you can either skip a song on a CD, or even easier, click the song you want to listen to on a streaming service.
I have very sincere memories growing up and popping an album in, and listening to it from beginning to end. These days the closest you can get to this experience is to play an album on vinyl, from beginning to end, no skipping. And I think that’s how most musicians would want you to listen to their creativity.
The show opened with Christian McBride Big Band, who were introduced by none other than comedy legend, Cedric the Entertainer.
Christian McBride Big Band played a few instrumentals from their large catalog of music beginning with a song entitled “Shake N Blake”, named after one of the members of the band.
One of the most amazing performances of the night was when singer Jose James came to join as a vocalist. I previously had not been blessed to know who Jose James is, but upon hearing his voice I literally opened up my phone and Googled Jose James on the spot. I am unsure how to describe how unbelievably great Jose James sounds live. Not just how good he sounds live, but how unique, powerful, and intoxicating of a voice he has.
Some people are born to sing, this is one. His singing was effortless. It was as if his speaking voice was one of melody. Jose James sang a few songs including a rendition of “Just the Two of Us” that was just as good as the original, if not better. Jose James also sang us the Blues. If there was a voice made for singing, Jose James is that voice.
Christian McBride Big Band played for about 45 minutes. Half of the performance was with Jose James. The entire performance was the definition of Music. I stood in awe at the level of talent on stage.
After a brief intermission, we were given a spoken word performance by Ursula Rucker. Ursula Rucker performed a slamming and moving rendition of “The Return to Innocence Lost.” The spoken word performance though set the stage for what we were about to bear witness to. Hip Hop. In its purest essence. The music of the streets. The music of the Soul. The music of Rebellion.
After the spoken word performance, the Legendary Roots Crew took the stage. I sat in my seat feeling like I was 16 years old all over again. I was wearing my “Do You Want More?!!!??!” t-shirt and waited in anticipation for the performance to begin. Looking around on stage I saw Questlove take a seat behind the drums. I saw the Cap pick up his guitar and I saw Tuba Gooding Jr., aka Damon Bryson, pick up a sousaphone/tuba that was bigger than myself.
And then boom, Questlove strikes his drumstick down and the show starts. Out comes the God MC, Black Thought, starting off the night with the classic track “Next Movement.” There is a commanding presence that Black Thought conveys naturally. The microphone is an extension of the arm that holds it, and it amplifies the message of the holder. When in the possession of a master lyricist as Black Thought, that microphone becomes a weapon. Words are like daggers when being spoken by a master of language. Black Thought is that Master.
During the performance, the Roots were joined by frequent collaborator, Dice Raw. Midway through the performance, the Roots started to play the classic track, “Love of My Life,” also known as, “Act Too”. As a person who declares to all that he was raised by Hip Hop, this particular song speaks to my soul. I was hoping we would see Common come out as a surprise guest and perform his verse, but even without Common, hearing that song live is something I will never forget.
After “Act Too,” the Roots went into a melody they affectionately call, “Hip Hop 101 pt 1.” I knew we were in for something special, but nothing prepared me for what I was going to witness. “Hip Hop 101 pt 1” is exactly what it sounds like. It is the Roots version of giving its audience a history lesson in the music we love. And to do so the Roots started with T.I.’s classic, “What You Know About That,” and then transitioned straight into Heavy D, while giving a shoutout of RIP to the legendary Heavster. From Trick Daddy (“cause baby I’m a thug”), to Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin”, to Jay-Z and MOP’s “U Don’t Know”. If you haven’t heard “U Don’t Know” before, do me a favor and pull it up and listen to it because that’s the only way you can understand that song’s energy. Imagine that energy being led by Black Thought, with the music of the Roots band behind him. Unreal. I can keep going on the songs they played, from OutKast’s “So Fresh and So Clean”, to Camp Lo’s “Luchini”, to Notorious BIG’s “Ten Crack Commandments”, to Wu-Tang’s “CREAM”, to Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal”, to Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones”, to California legend’s, The Pharcyde’s “Runnin”… if you are a fan of Hip Hop, the Roots took you down memory lane of your childhood.
Transitioning from “Hip Hop 101 pt 1” the Roots were joined on stage by Philadelphia Hip Hop legend, Freeway. I’m fairly certain the majority of the audience were not clear who Freeway was. In fact, an older gentleman from another publication turned and asked me, “who is that guy?” To which I responded, “PHILADELPHIA HIP HOP LEGEND FREEWAY, GOOGLE HIM.” Yes, Freeway is that dude. A lyricist at his core, if you are a lover of Hip Hop music, you not only respect Freeway, but you are also a fan. There must be a fan video of me screaming “OH SH*T THAT’S FREEWAY” when he came out on stage.
Freeway performed on two songs. He first performed his Hip Hop classic, “What We Do” which was sonic bliss to my ears. There is something about a pure Hip Hop beat, that was once created via sampling, behind interpreted by a live band. Amazing music.
After Freeway, the Roots went into “Hip Hop 101 pt 2” and began that set with the classic remix instrumental to Mary J. Blige’s “I Love You.” One of the most iconic beats ever to be produced. Taking a break from Hip Hop itself, the Roots were preparing the audience to hear some artists that have been sampled, and have influenced Hip Hop, and they did so by playing some Stevie Wonder! The Roots were “Knocking Us Off Our Feet” so to speak. But the brilliance of it all was the Roots transitioning the beat of “Knocks Me Off My Feet” into Ol Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Yah. Holy @$#@, UNBELIEVABLE. Black Thought proceeded to perform ODB’s first verse in full (RIP) to end “Hip Hop 101 pt 2.”
To end the night, the floor was given to the Cap, Kirk Douglas, lead guitarist for the Legendary Roots Crew. Words will not be able to convey the solo performance by Captain Kirk Douglas. For a period of about 8 minutes, Captain Kirk Douglas took us on a soulful journey of not only guitar shredding, but vocalizing that only made me wonder why Captain Kirk Douglas was not featured even more by the Roots. He sang snips from songs such as Sade’s Sweet Taboo, to Kanye’s Can’t Nobody Tell Me Nothing, to even Old Town Road, which brought an audible laugh and simultaneous cheer and dance by the audience. It’s amazing to see so much talent contained within one person.
And honestly, that was probably the best way to end the night. The showcasing of one band members talent as the closing act. A band member who is not the most visually recognizable member, that belongs to Questlove and Black Thought. But a band member who as talented as his comrades. That’s the beauty of the Roots though. Every single member brings something that no other member has. It is the genius of bringing these people together that has enabled them to say without question that they are the Legendary Roots Crew.