When Rolling stone asked Black Thought, the fierce and nimble rapper who led the Roots for three decades, his list of Roots songs that defined his life, he – subconsciously or not – initially submitted tracks from other artists. Choosing your own highlights from 11 albums, numerous guest appearances, and one of the most lauded freestyles of the decade has proven to be much more difficult.
“It was much easier for me to think of the 20 songs that marked my life,” he says.. “With my own songs, I couldn’t even understand their head. “
Over the course of two hours, however, talkative musician born Tariq Trotter dug nearly 30 years to detail the behind-the-scenes stories behind the group’s most indelible songs and the deep cuts beloved by hardcore fans. Trotter, 48, co-founded the Roots with drummer Ahmir Thompson (Questlove) after they met at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in 1987. The group has grown to include co-founders Malik Abdul- Basit (Malik B.), Trotter’s skillful counterpoint for over a decade, and Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, the band’s modest but crucial bassist for more than 15 years – two key former members who have died within the past 18 months . (Rich Nichols, the band’s longtime manager and a key part of the band’s success since its formation, passed away in 2014.)
Even in the midst of the pandemic, Black Thought remains an outperformer, with plans ranging from returning from a multi-day educational workshop at Carnegie Hall last summer to providing lyrics and music for the next one. More black, an off-Broadway musical written by 12 years of slavery screenwriter John Ridley. (Trotter will also be making his acting debut on the series.)
“I always go for a level of socio-political commentary. It’s the obvious element that will be there no matter what, ”the rapper said of his song choices, which could also serve as a commentary on the long arc of his career. “But I also wanted to include a degree of vulnerability and just be personal.” Where words like “longevity” are more ambitious than factual for most rappers, the music of Black Thought – 1993’s Organix to the 2020s Currents of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane & Capable – has long since transcended trends.
“That’s what Roots the Roots is: there is no expiration date,” he says. “The shelf life is eternal.”