“The Roots are kinda like the house band for hip hop,” says Q-Tip, seated in a conference room at the New York offices of LVMH, the luxury brand powerhouse behind Louis Vuitton, Moet, and Hennessy. The former front man of A Tribe Called Quest has worked with The Roots in the past, and now they’re collaborating in a new way—as curators of this September’s Hennessy Artistry Series, choosing musical and visual artists to highlight at a series of live shows through the U.S. in September. “And probably now for like American culture even, The Roots are like the band to go to. They’re like Robbie Robertson or something. They’re like, you know, just a mainstay in it... They always toured and stayed on the road amidst whatever commercial success could have slipped by them, they stayed diligent and they stayed consistent.”
When asked about the Roots’ formidable MC, Black Thought, easily one of the most underrated MCs of his generation, Q-Tip gives maximum respect to his fellow craftsman. “He’s amazing. He reminds me of a G-Rap in that way. He’s definitely a wordsmith. He’s a steady, consistent dude that you can just count on time in and time out to always give that level. He’s definitely dope and people are starting to really sing his praises more and more.”
Thought is blasts gamma rays on The Roots’ latest disc (and Def Jam debut), the critically acclaimed How I Got Over. With The Roots installed as the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Black Thought continues to share the stage on a nightly basis—but he’s begun stepping out on side projects as well. He is presently in the studio with “The Money Makin’ Jamboys,” a collective of Roots–affiliated spitters that also includes Dice Raw, P.O.R.N., Truck North, Sugar Tongue Slim, and Peedi Crack, and working on an as-yet-untitled mixtape that will be hosted by Don Cannon. When Black Thought previewed a verse on Street Sweeper Radio he blew Kay Slay’s mind.
But fame and hype aren't what motivates Black Thought to do what he does. But after 18 years in the game, the fiercely private MC—who may loathe the press even more than sucka MCs—seems more than ready for some long-overdue props. Here, he and Questlove sit down for an in-depth convo about their early days, TV gig and legacy. —Rob Kenner
VIBE: Most reviews of How I Got Over have made much of the fact that the band has been exposed to new kinds of music because of your Late Night gig. But the Roots have always blended different styles of music.
Black Thought: No doubt. But now we can do it that much more. So if we’ve always wanted to work with Herbie Hancock, we can reach out to him to be on the show the show. And we’ve got a studio right there in the NBC building so we can get some work done.
Very clever. Is that how Dear God 2.0 come together? Did you just use M.O.F.’s track or did you do any overdubs?
BT: That began from us having worked with Dirty Projectors and MOF. I did a verse for a remix project that M.O.F. was doing, and it just evolved from there.
So do you choose which musicians play on the show?
BT: It’s not like we have to approve all the artists who are booked, but the people who do the bookings want to know how we feel about backing them. Put it this way, if we say “that would be wack,” they’re not getting booked.
What did you and Questlove see in each other to make you want to work together back at the Philadelphia School for the Arts?