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The Roots: History of the Hip Hop Band

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed in 1987 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Roots are a hip hop band that made a name for themselves through their live shows. They are also known for their incorporation of soul, jazz and funk into their musical sound. After reaching critical and commercial success throughout the 2000s, The Roots took on a gig as the house band for the television program "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" near the end of the decade and this has brought them new-found popularity. In this video, we take a look at the history of The Roots.

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Hip hop group The Roots formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1987. Rapper Tariq Trotter, known as Black Thought, and drummer Ahmir Thompson, known as Questlove, met during high school. They began performing together and were eventually joined by bassist Leon “Hub” Hubbard and rapper Malik B. The artists soon began to make a name for themselves in the underground scenes of Philadelphia and New York City.


They independently released the hip hop album Organix! in 1993. This effort garnered the interest of several labels and allowed The Roots to sign with David Geffen Company Records shortly thereafter.

Alternative Rock Fans

Do You Want More?!!!??! followed two years later. This hip hop jazz effort did not initially attract the attention of many hip hop fans. However, some of the alternative rock audience took notice after the band played at the Lollapalooza music festival in the mid-1990s. During this time, The Roots also added producer Scott Storch and beatboxer Rahzel M. Brown to the line-up.

First Mainstream Success

Up next was 1996’s Illadelph Halflife. The intense record found a place within the top thirty of the Billboard 200 chart and featured “What They Do,” which was the band’s first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.

Critical and Commercial Recognition

However, The Roots really began to earn recognition with their record Things Fall Apart. The 1999 album reached the fourth spot on the Billboard chart and won them a Grammy for the song “You Got Me.” The effort featured meaningful lyrics as well as neo-soul influences, and was their most successful to that point. Later that year, The Roots demonstrated their talent and passion for live instrumentation with the album The Roots Come Alive.


Despite a few personnel changes, the collective released another disc in 2002. Phrenology made it within the top thirty on the charts. The commercially successful effort included several collaborations with multiple artists.

Line-Up Changes and Jam Sessions

More members of The Roots left the band prior to the release of 2004’s The Tipping Point. This more varied record was based on previously recorded jam sessions and contained various influences, like pop, jazz and funk. It reached number four on the charts.

Darker Themes and Top Ten Records

2006’s Game Theory was The Roots’ first disc on Def Jam Recordings. The top ten record was much darker than their previous material and spoke of socio-political themes. It was followed by Rising Down two years later, which carried over the grim tone of the last effort with the addition of electronic influences. This album also charted within the Billboard top ten.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon

In 2009, The Roots became the house band on the late-night talk show “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” While holding this gig, they continued to record and came out with How I Got Over in 2010. The top-ten record was praised for combining various musical genres such as soul, indie rock and gospel into a unified sound.

John Legend

Later that year, The Roots made a collaborative album with singer John Legend. Wake Up! consisted mainly of soul music covers and was followed by “The ‘Wake Up Radio’ Mixtape.”


In 2011, while still appearing on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” The Roots co-produced singer Betty Wright’s album Betty Wright: The Movie. They also released their first concept record Undun later that year.

Excellent Live Band

With their blend of hip hop and neo soul, The Roots won fans by using multiple instruments more often associated with jazz and funk during their live performances. As such, they have become an influence for many artists and continue to be admired by critics and fans alike.

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