Do you listen to conscious rap? Really, do you listen to the words of those underground artists struggling to bring their music to more people? Do you get something special out of it? Do you compare it to radio hits? Do you take a stand because some line in a song really set you off? Do you fall in love because of it? Does it make you hate? Does it make you think?..
Anyone who answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions can also list their top 5 conscious Hip Hop acts in their sleep. Each one of those will have The Roots in that list, many at the very top. The musical genius of ?uestlove combined with the top notch MC’ing of Black Thought never fails to impress even the most demanding Hip Hop heads. 20 years in the making (yes, it’s really been 20 years now), the most recognized, commercially viable and consciously discriminating Hip Hop band is going stronger than ever. Signing to Def Jam in 2006 made it a bit easier for the legendary group. Jay-Z even formed DefJam Left, seemingly just for them. They were able to put out their most unexpected release, titled Game Theory. Only the true music fans actually copped that one. It was simply so dark that the commercial spotlight did not shine on it even a bit. Despite the Grammy nomination it sold less than the band could have predicted. Yet, it was possibly their strongest album, expressing all the disappointments the band has with the current state of politics, neglect of social issues and the current state of Hip Hop. Unlike Nas’ Hip Hop is Dead it didn’t just spell out the nature of issues. It didn’t have a lead club banger either. It was done The Roots’ way. It made people think for themselves.
Thinking for yourself pretty much goes against everything today’s music has to offer. Well, ?uest and Black have long been pushing that approach. Game Theory’s sales only proved further how unprepared to think the average Hip Hop consumer has become. The consumer may have changed but The Roots remained true to the way they’ve always been. After all, they are ‘old school’. It is hard for people to think that way as the group remained so very young. Yet, the numbers don’t lie. They are currently working on their 10th studio album, more than 4 tracks deep into it as of this moment. That is besides the fact that ?uestlove is a full time DJ, greatly involved in many DefJam efforts and more. He is also the musical director for the VH1 Hip Hop Honors.
This year, as a part of the VH1 Hip Hop Honors weekend The Roots had a show dedicated to just that, old school of Hip Hop. Performing songs by Rakim, Wu-Tang, Public Enemy and more they sold out 2 shows in 1 night and made the crowd totally forget that themselves they are a part of the same old school of Hip Hop. They did not perform any of their own songs. It was truly a Hip Hop Honors event. Watching Black Thought spit those old school rhymes, like Microphone Fiend, was a truly unreal spectacle. He seemed more into it than even when he performs his own songs.
Selling out shows all over the world has been The Roots legacy for a long time now. Combining the conscious themes, true old school feeling, unmatched musical abilities and global support the band keeps going. From the 40,000 sold-out arena of Randall’s Island to the tiny venues in their home town of Philadelphia they rep for Hip Hop. And Hip Hop reps for them.