My brother one day came home with the Men In Black soundtrack way back in 1998. (Back in the day my sister and I were too kool for skool, and would often ignore our younger brothers' excellent music tastes at the time, but we eventually grew up!)
Upon listening to this masterpiece album, I was first introduced to the hip hop band The Roots (incidentally, this was also the first time I heard D'Angelo - on the same track with The Roots). At first I wasn't hooked - yet. A year or so later I stumbled across their latest release at the time - Things Fall Apart - the infatuation was born.
10 studio albums in 17 years - a ton of music, lyrics, beats, chords, ideas, inspiration. So why do I think they're so good?
Well first of all, they're REAL. Live musicians, no pretending. And I can't go past my fundamental musical inspiration: funky beats, jazz chords.
These funky beats stem from the foundation of the band - the drummer. Let's face it, if you don't have a solid drummer, (and I mean S-O-L-I-D) then you have no band. Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson has to be branded one of, if not, THE best hip hop drummer to have ever lived. Even when this guy plays out of time he grooves! Also a writer and producer in his own right, he forms the core solid foundation of The Roots. He's also an allrounder - he's featured with a ton of different artists. He was also the musical director for Jay-Z's live show not so long ago.
The other part of this foundation would have to be lead vocalist Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter. Through my years of listening to music, I have taken more notice of the musical elements of a song rather than the content of the lyrics. Only recently have I really thought about the meaning of lyrics and Black Thought has always had a knack of telling everyone how it is - again, no pretending. Political, meaningful lyrics that affect everyone. It is also very hard to look past his delivery and brilliant rhythm in this precise rap delivery. Genius.
Out of all their albums, I really can't decide which one is my favourite. In the beginning I used to listen to Things Fall Apart ALL the time, then I heard their 2nd album Do You Want More, and recently I've had How I Got Over on repeat on my iPod. But I think my favourite is an album that took me a long time to warm up to. But now I appreciate its mellow but realistic musical vibe - its references to life as it is and to the love of music. I can understand that you would need to be a Roots fan to really understand their music, particularly on this album, my favourite - Illadelph Halflife.
So how are The Roots different from any other hip hop artist, who sounds the same as the next one? I'll tell you why. 10 studio albums, only 1 live album released. Why? Because they don't need to release live albums. These guys make their money from live shows. They tour ALL the time. They play live ALL the time. They put on the best show you will ever see ALL the time. I've seen them on different sides of the world - they are phenomenal wherever they play! Whoever they play to. Go to a live show, and you won't hear what's on their studio albums - you'll hear the same songs, but you'll hear them arranged differently with all sorts of other parts going on that you wouldn't hear on their studio albums.
So, that's why I believe The Roots are one of the greatest musical acts of all time. In my humble opinion of course...
Its all about the music.