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Roots bring rap up a notch

Grammy Award-winners The Roots hit the Big Easy Concert House for a show Wednesday night.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Grammy Award-winners The Roots hit the Big Easy Concert House for a show Wednesday night. (The Spokesman-Review)

Since its late 1970s inception, critics have stiff-armed rap music for making a tradition of using samples as the foundation of its sound, calling hip-hop anti-music. And if it weren’t for bands such as The Roots, they might have a leg to stand on.

With the Philadelphia hip-hop band’s 1995 major label debut, “Do You Want More?!!?” (Geffen), The Roots became hip-hop’s first true avant-garde, embellishing on Stetsasonic’s “hip-hop band” concept. The Roots swapped out samples for live instrumentation that featured members of The Roots alongside jazz artists for live shows and studio recordings that hinged more on the groove than the hook.

Although album sales don’t reflect it, The Roots, led by drummer ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson), are counted among the best live bands in current music.

The Roots bring their stellar touring reputation along with a small platoon of heat-seeking artists from its newly formed independent label, Okayplayer Records, when the tour of the same name lands Wednesday at the Big Easy Concert House. Okayplayers Skillz, Jean Grae, and Martin Luther, plus Bosko featuring Siren’s Echo and DJ Chill open the show.

The Roots are touring in support of its label’s first release, a who’s who of the Okayplayer roster titled “True Notes Vol. 1,” released this week. The Roots are set to release “The Tipping Point,” the fifth studio album, on July 13.

After holding an unsigned artists talent search on, The Roots hand-picked artists for the compilation and tour, including The Chapter and Nicolay and Supastition.

The Okayplayer brand started as a Web site founded by ?uestlove in 1999 as the official Web site for the band. is now home to a number of artists including Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, D’Angelo, Common, Dilated Peoples and Meshell Ndegeocello. The site launched the first series of Okayplayer concert tours in 2000.

“There is an array of untapped talent out there especially from the people who are members of the community. The Roots have always been a magnet for talented artists. This deal is important to us because we can now provide a vehicle for bringing deserving artists to the forefront. The Little Brother story is one that motivated us to put together this label,” Thompson states in a news release.

Underground rap group Little Brother started out posting their music on the Okayplayer site and soon developed a following made up of Okayplayers, including founder ?uestlove.

The band has opened for The Roots and was one of the featured acts on the recent tour. Also, member and producer 9th Wonder was a featured producer on Jay Z’s “The Black Album.”

While The Roots have been respected in the rap circle since first sampling live bagpipes on “Do You Want More?!!?,” the band has been generating more mainstream attention with each subsequent release.

The Roots won a Grammy in 2000 for the best rap performance by a duo or group for its duet with Erykah Badu, “You Got Me.” Last year’s “Phrenology” was nominated for best rap album.


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