Roots got ‘Game’: Hardworking ?uestlove drums up support for tour
By Chris Faraone
Saturday, August 5, 2006
Twelve years ago, Philly’s Roots crew was playing free Sunday-night shows at lower Manhattan’s cramped Wetlands rock club.
Those days are over. Seven years ago, the band’s trademark soul-hop earned a gold record and a Grammy for the epic ‘‘Things Fall Apart.” The six-man outfit has since become the gold standard for live hip-hop, backing Jay-Z for most of his performances and smashing more than 100 of its own gigs every year.
On Monday, the Roots play Avalon, one of the smaller venues the group is likely to rock for a long time.
‘‘I’m glad that we’re playing Avalon because now the club dates are few and far between,” Roots drummer ?uestlove said from Philly. ‘‘We’ve graduated to small theaters, which are nice, but there’s no club intimacy in front of 6,000 people.”
?uestlove (real name Ahmir Khalib Thompson) also is an in-demand studio drummer who’s recorded with artists ranging from John Mayer, Joss Stone and Christina Aguilera to Earth, Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers and Angelique Kidjo. But this summer he, his four bandmates and frontman MC Black Thought will hit some 50 cities worldwide to support the Roots’ seventh studio album, ‘‘Game Theory,” which arrives in stores Aug. 29.
Their new CD, ?uestlove joked, is just another excuse to hit the road.
‘‘We’ve been touring for 14 years now,” he said. ‘‘When we get tired of it, we just get another tour bus so we don’t have to talk to each other. We’re about to get our third tour bus - that’s gonna be a miracle.”
Even with the first-class perks that come with being on major label Def Jam, the Roots don’t get the deluxe treatment showered on some of their glossier labelmates.
‘‘Even when we’re in good with a label,” ?uestlove said, ‘‘it’s hard to keep their attention because we’re not the moneymaker. If you’re (a big label), you’re thinking, ‘Do I put my money behind the Black Eyed Peas or the Roots?’ It’s like, ‘C’mon now, the Black Eyed Peas sell 4 million units, of course we’re gonna take care of our cash cow.’ ”
That lack of attention led to the band changing record companies, from Geffen to Def Jam (though both are owned by the same corporate giant, Universal Music Group). The transfer left them without a label or a studio to record in for three months while trying to complete ‘‘Game Theory.” But that didn’t stop the Roots.
‘‘We made most of this album on the Apple program Garage Band,” ?uest said. ‘‘It’s a very murky, dark record. If there’s a sonic equivalent to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ for hip-hop, then I dare say that this is almost it.”
So while the venues are bigger, the Roots are still striving. Check out ?uestlove, who works hard every day. Well, almost every day. [continue]
‘‘I’m a machine,” ?uest said. ‘‘If I have a day off, I’m not going home to Philly; I’m going to do somebody else’s record. Today is the first day in two months that I’ve had nothing to do. But I’m trying to organize something. Maybe I’ll go bowling.”
The Roots, with Talib Kweli and the Pharcyde, at Avalon on Monday at 9 p.m. For tickets, $17 in advance, $20 day of show, call 617-228-6000.