Longevity in popular music is somewhat rare these days. In today’s age of one hit and one album wonders, it’s as challenging as ever to sustain a lengthy and healthy career in music. This is true across the musical spectrum, but especially so in hip hop. While some artists prove to have true staying power, there are many more who come and go, forgotten nearly as fast as they rise. To stay truly relevant, however relevancy is defined, artists must not only maintain a regular and quality artistic output, but also approach their art, business, and brand creatively. When it comes to staying creative over a long period of time, few acts top the Roots.
Though it’s been five years since the popular hip hop band released a proper album, they continue to play shows and remains an essential cog to Jimmy Fallon’s late night program in their role as house band. In Sunday’s show at Mystic Lake, The Roots proved yet again why they’re a must-see live act, bringing together excellent rapping with first-rate musicianship.
While the show featured a little bit for everybody, Roots diehards would be rewarded early on. Somewhat jazzy versions of “Respond/React” and “Dynamite” were among the many early tunes the Philadelphia group played early on in their set.
Though the set showcased every member of the large band, this portion highlighted rapper Black Thought’s dynamic flow and lyricism. He’s always been deeply underrated, and on this night proved to be as critical to the band’s live show as he is to their ambitious albums.
After the extended run of originals, the band shifted gears and played a medley of covers (which they dubbed “hip hop 101”). This section was somewhat hit or miss compared to the rest of the show. While the band is capable of playing just about anything, they shuffled between songs quickly, not really digging into anything in particular. With that said, the high points of the medley were high; hearing the Roots pay tribute to Dilla, Stevie, and Wu-tang will always be rewarding.
The medley was also important in that it marked a shift in the tone and energy of the show. The band found another gear around this point, moving into funkier and more danceable territory without sacrificing anything.
The momentum built steadily and quickly, peaking on an extended workout of “You Got Me,” anchored by some of drummer ?uestlove’s filthiest playing of the night, and insane soloing by guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas, who also took on vocal duties for the song.
From there, things would only get wilder. The show took on the feel of a jam session in the best way possible. The nine-piece band looked like they were having as much fun as the audience, who got more and more absorbed with each passing song. The energy was through the roof, and the band was locked in, passing solos back and forth while holding down an undeniable groove.
The song selection, in terms of both originals and covers, wasn’t completely surprising, but it was tasteful and each was played with an intensity you don’t normally find at a hip hop show. Of course, the Roots aren’t (and have never been) a “normal” hip hop band, and rarely fit in any sort of conventional box.
Their twenty-plus year career has followed suit, taking them to soaring heights and a well-deserved reputation as one of the best acts around. On this night, they surpassed all expectations and likely made some new fans in the process.