|The Roots Come Alive
by Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, The Roots
So here it is folks. In all its flawed glory. The album you’ve been begging us for. We don’t like to see this as a “Greatest Hits” package nor as the definitive “Live Record” (yes, there will be Vol. 2, 3, 4, etc.) actually quite the opposite. When listening to the final tapes, we found out that the best songs were actually the ones with flaws in ‘em: Scott Storch (who filled in for a dormant Kamal in Paris) forgetting his cue on the 2nd verse of “Proceed”, or the tomfoolery of a very ancient “Esaywhuman?!??!!!”, Rahzel’s singing on “Silent Treatment” (“y’all sound drunk” quipped Black Thought), or BT’s sudden James Brown outburst that threw us all for a loop on “Adrenaline”. Those are the highlights that stuck out during the past year of recording.
As you know by now, touring is our bread and butter. And since we do it so much (250 nights a year are spent devoted to the road), I think that’s what gives us an advantage when performing. Well actually it’s not, even though the combined age experience for all 7 of us (Rahzel is still a Root) is 90 years. I think when it comes to elevating Hip-Hop, all should be required to start in the Hip-Hop equivalent of the mailroom which is.......the streets?
Well, not quite......see, the reason we opened this record with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, Live at the T-Connection, 1979 is because when you hear these tapes they are an abundance of education. Because back then you had to work harder. There were no videos, no press, and no radio for these artists. Skill was the name of the game and back then you had to do everything: dance routines, wardrobe, freestyling, the dozens, cut, scratch, and most importantly, MC. Today’s star has it quite easy. All it takes is a cameo, a hit single, and a half hour (shame on y’all). Believe it or not, we paid the same dues as the greats we emulate.
Even though we were a group, in name only, back in ‘87, by the time ‘92 rolled around we were seeking a higher level for which we could stand out and get noticed. Enter South Street, the cultural melting pot of illadelph. It’s there we learned how to rock crowds. It wasn’t enough to just do the routines that we jammed the night before. We had to go above and beyond the call of duty. That meant: freestyling (as in off the top of the head last minute look ma no notebook) in which Tariq might occasionally show off by lining people up in a row and freestyle about their hair, shoes, and the color of the shirt they had on. Sometimes it almost got rowdy, when rival crews would try to heckle you in the crowd, only to get served off the top of the dome and embarrassed in the process. That’s the schooling we got that allowed us to go to that next level: clubs.
Now it’s at clubs in which we learned to read the audience. As in there are some things you learn to do for one particular crowd that you don’t do for another crowd. Some club owners who might be frightened off by the Hip-Hop title might ease up since they know that we are serious musicians. Not saying this is right. (I actually hate the fact that we did shows with local rock bands that would destroy their equipment, throw shit around, etc., and we couldn’t get hired unless our manager tagged us as an “alternative/jazz group”. Of course once on stage we would show our true colors.) Yet and still it was the summer of ‘92 that prepared us life as we know it now.
The last element of the show is the sonic delivery. I’m proud to say that we have the prime “sound designers” in the business. Before Richard “Dix” Nichols and Kenyatta “Kelo” Williams our sound was dry and nondescript. Simply because sound men didn’t view their job as an art (well except maybe Pink Floyd’s sound guy and Mario C., who hooks the Beastie Boys sound lovely). The aim here is to give the crowd a complete sound experience. As in make the drums sound as crisp and close to the original sound source as possible, have the bass vibrate the room to the ppppoint in which everyone in the room holds their stomachs, and flying keyboards in 3-D. So yeah, there is no standard for live show mixing in Hip-Hop......well ‘til now. And the document is in your hands.
-Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, The Roots