Just wanted to take a few minutes to pay tribute to Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, of the Legendary Roots Crew, who passed away yesterday at 62 years young; after an extended battle with a rare blood cancer, which recently returned with a vengeance after some time in remission. The OG bassist with the mean mug, never without his trusty chewstick, always protectin’ The Roots boom-bap pocket, holdin down the low-end theory with understated, rock solid bass work. He was an essential part of the team for well over a decade, including the crucial building blocks of the early days, touring in the van adventures, and then eventual Stateside explosion just before the millenium. Hub was a force onstage, meticulously driving the groove train with his patna’in riddim, Questlove.
Hub was like a great offensive lineman, in the sense that because he was so good at doing his job, you seldom noticed his contributions unless you looked (or listened) for them. But when the band was BUMPIN’, you could thank Hub for layin’ it down so proper. Not only was he an uber-focused component of the sum of The Roots parts, but he could adapt on the fly to classic hip-hop covers, funk jams, jazz vamps, hard rock, even pop songs from the zeitgeist. The Roots were the original rap jamband, nothing was off limits, and Hub was a major reason they could swag by the seat of their pants with such reckless abandon.
Hub dropped so many iconic basslines throughout the catalog, some simple patterns, others more complex or obtuse. But they were each decidedly his own, & the banded sounded a certain way when Hub was holding them down. His job was never to show out, but to serve the song, which was often a disciplined minimalism of few notes and much feel, because that was what made it hip-hop. Some faves that come to mind are “Proceed”, “Next Movement”, “Mellow My Man”, “Datskat”, “100% Dundee”, “Game Theory”, “Clones”, “Distortion 2 Static”, “Section”, “Concert of the Desperado”, “Water”, the spine-chilling 2001 rework of “You Got Me” with Jilly from Philly, and the list goes on and on. Cold, hard, occasionally dark, always potent.
Hub left the band before they hit nighttime TV w Jimmy Fallon, but like Malik B before him, we must not allow him to be written out of Roots history, nor his presence minimalized or disregarded. He made some headlines for a lawsuit between band members & management a few years ago, but I am certain he would prefer not to be remembered for that stuff, and more for his voluminous contributions “in the music”.
When Black Thought would introduce him onstage before or after one of his trademark bass solos – where he often took off into some truly liberating musical spaces – it was always “Leonardo Del Hubrio”. I sure got a kick out of that ridiculous nickname, and when my good friend (and fellow Roots stan) Randy texted me about his passing, the first thing I said to myself was “Damn, not the International Bass Pimp, Leonardo Del Hubrio!”
*inserts keys & turns over the ignition to the wayback machine*
When I was about 13, headed to get a cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks & we passed by a nascent version of the squad called The Square Roots, they were playing live rap music, outside somewhere on South Street in Philly. This was in the early 90’s, and lemme tell ya, that alone was revolutionary back then. But my real introduction to The Roots was in May of 95, opening up for the Beastie Boys at the Philly Civic Center. From there it was a wrap, I was all the way in, and all the way live from the 215 with the Legendary Roots Crew.
During Hub’s fifteen year tenure with The Roots, I was blessed to catch roughly 20-25 shows. Because The Roots were always switchin’ the style & the setlist, with an abundance of improv, the performances spoke to my inner-hippie, & the band were warmly embraced by the jam scene. The band’s own Okayplayer website & community was also a major presence, not just in Philly but worldwide; the message boards were a hub (no pun) for all of us to convene, commiserate & enjoy a free, if feisty, exchange of ideas. I learned a sizable portion of what I know about music (& the cultures that surround) from Okayplayer’s The Lesson board. Word to Warren Coolidge & Afkap of Darkness.
All this to say that in those days, when I still called the pharmacological streets of Philly my homebase, we chased The Roots around wherever they were touring, but also hit their regular ladies night/open-jam session, a vibrant party called Black Lily, held at the now-defunct 5-Spot in Old City. On these halcyon nights brimming with sisterly love, so much magic happened. You could find JazzyFatNastees, Jill Scott, Ursala Rucker, Kindred, Floetry, a young Jazmin Sullivan, and Jaguar Wright, among a smattering of other cats, everybody getting busy with a patchwork live band behind them, sometimes even with Hub holdin’ down the bass. Even then, a cog in the wheel of the neo-soul revolution & surrounded by a harem of Nubian empresses, dude was strictly mean mug and a chewstick. Same as it ever was.
So many The Roots shows from the Hub days stick out in my mind, but there’s a few that are forever: That first time on the Ill Communication tour in 1995. NYers Against Violence with PE & Beasties just after 9/11, Halloween 2001 at the Electric Factory in Philly a few weeks later. The Roots & Common at The Trocadero in 2004 was another blessed banger.
But I think the experience I treasure the most was during the Phrenology era. Specifically the week they dropped the album, November 26th 2002. They played record-release shows all over NYC the entire week save for Thanksgiving night (Joe’s Pub, Bowery Ballroom, among other spots), and a weekend show in Philly. I was lucky to catch a couple that week, but the one that I return to in my mind’s eye quite often was at the iconic rap dungeon SOB’s, on the Tuesday night before Turkey Day. I was fortunate to take in this concert with 2 of my best friends since elementary school, Dr. Shaus & Robbie WK. It was a star studded affair up there, Kweli, Bilal, the late great Guru of Gang Starr, even Puff was in the house. We wereway up front, right by Hub’s area on the insanely cramped stage, for most of the nearly 2 hour show.
Next to us were Tek & Steele of Smif & Wessun, & Buckshot Shorty from Black Moon!, like right there in the audience, goin HAM w the people. Robbie & Buckshot are somewhat vertically challenged, and next to one another they looked like twinzies separated at birth. And lemme tell youse, we cheeeeefed so much chronic – this was when we smoked “onees”, and long before open blazing was quite so tolerated, but we just kept stuffin’ ‘em & cloudin’ up the area, throughout the whole section. I tried to pass the handblown hitter to Steele, & he gave me the side-eye like it was a crack pipe! Anyways, after a good while of The Roots & friends killin’ the game, somebody extended a hand to them & pulled all 3 of them up onstage & they uncorked a series of Boot Camp classics: I remember the “Sound Bwoy Burial” live & direct, from like 2 feet away. Then Black Moon’s “I Gotcha Opin” & “How Many MCs”…
When I tell you that the three of us were losing it up there, “I really mean it!” ©Cam’ron. This was like manna from heaven for young me, Robbie too. We grew up on these tapes, and here they were, Duck Down shtyle & the legendary Roots crew, with me & my guys wylin’ out in the first few rows, together…. MAN. 19 years later, just thinking about this moment makes the hairs on my neck do sun salutations….
Why am I telling this story in a Hub memorial post? Well aside from it being one of my favorite Roots moments ever (second only to that other thing that happened at Bear Creek), maybe the firmest recollection I have of this admittedly hazy evening is that when this Boot Camp x The Roots collab was goin down, and these three white boys were going BANANAS up front, it was literally the ONLY time I have ever seen the late Leonardo Del Hubrio crack a smile.
Dude was laughing at us. Or maybe with us… Either way, Hub saw how his art affected our lives in that moment. Even if they were performing someone else’s songs at that time, he saw us there all night, tryna play it cool… and then we were just overcome with pure joy & unabashed energy. And on Hub’s always stoic, focused face- a sheepish lil’ grin emerged, if only for a second, before it was back to mean muggin’ & the omnipresent chewstick.
As it should be, and now shall remain, forever.
Rest in beats, Leonardo Del Hubrio. We will continue to rip sh*t up & keep it hardcore for you. May the four winds blow you safely home.
Okayplayer handle- Steg1
*this post was inspired by the late, great Greg Tate*