Words by B. Getz of Upful Life
For the penultimate night of 2018, The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater will play host to The Roots, the iconic hip-hop live band hailing from Philadelphia, PA. Mesmerizing audiences for over twenty-five years, The Roots are a Grammy Award-winning group that has headlined festivals and sold-out venues the globe over. Having steadily collaborated with the likes of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Usher, Elvis Costello, John Mayer, John Legend, Jay-Z, the late BB King and countless other luminaries of contemporary music, The Roots have become a household name; long-established as the preeminent live performance hip-hop and beyond.
When many people first think of the seminal hip-hop ensemble, they often imagine them in their omnipresence on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon (and before that Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), where The Roots have held it down as the house band for nearly a decade. Drummer and musical director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, he of the perennially-picked rotund afro and masterful chops, has been a part of the cultural zeitgeist for far longer than that.
But 2018 is most certainly the year of Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter; the MC/frontman, poet laureate and The Roots’ co-founder (with Thompson). Quite frankly, the microphone assassin self-glossed ‘Riq Gz’ is unequivocally the most dangerous emcee in rap. As 2017 drew to a close, Black Thought’s one-take, ten-minutes-straight freestyle on Funkmaster Flex’s show went viral, reintroducing the microphone fiend to the next generation of hip-hop culture, and reminding the rest of us just exactly what time it is. Thought chased that glory with not one but two white-hot EPs, Streams of Thought, Vols. 1 & 2, produced by 9th Wonder and Salaam Remi, respectively.
The band first took shape in the late ’80s when Questlove and Black Thought crossed paths at Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. By 1993, the fledgling crew had made a name for itself in South Philly, most notably on South Street, bringing live instrumentation to a genre dominated by samplers and drum machines. Soon they were scooped up as direct support for the Beastie Boys just after dropping major label debut Do You Want More in 1994. In addition to two live albums and three collaborative, The Roots have released a whopping fourteen albums, including the Grammy-winning Things Fall Apart (1999). Here they are, elder statesmen in the game, still riding high atop recent successes and as relevant as ever.
Collectively, the celebrated “Legendary” remain inspired and prolific, reportedly having recorded a unheard-of 263 songs(!) for a new release unofficially titled End Game. The ever-evolving live band currently consists of longtime keyboardists Kamal Grey and James Poyser, erstwhile guitarist/vocalist Captain Kirk Douglas, bassist Mark Kelley, sousaphone maven Tuba Gooding Jr., and newer members Stro Elliot (programming and samples) as well as finger-drumming-magician Jeremy Ellis. The Roots are known to inject pop-music anthems and old-school chestnuts into an always-thrilling live set peppered with their funkiest and most beloved material. The legendary Roots crew always likes to mix it up, yet fans can count on one thing for certain, no show is ever delivered quite the same way twice.