Interview: The Roots Discuss Martell Collaboration, ‘The Vanguard Series’


It takes years of staying relevant, consistently releasing quality material, and the perfect balance of street and commercial appeal to become legends in this wild, wild hip-hop arena.

Enter the Philly bred rap band, The Roots. Since their 1993 debut album, Organix, The Roots have delviered truth to the masses through song. Their mastery of wordplay and subject matter has even made them a fixture on night-time television with Jimmy Fallon.  

Not the ones to rest on their feats of yesterday, the Philly crew recently added to their extensive resume by collaborating with Martell Cognac for their The Vanguard Series — a platform partnership with the legendary band that allows you to fine tune your taste and toast to success with a superior cognac.

READ: Interview: The Roots’ Black Thought On Being A “Rap Athlete” & Lipton’s Be More Tea Festival

The partnership between the The Roots and Martell has been “about four years” in the making, according to Questlove. “[Martell] is celebrating their tercentennial right now,” says Black Thought. “They’re a brand that has been around forever — that’s still evolving, and able to change with the times while remaining true to their roots, and that’s what we do and what we’ve been.”

In conjunction with Martell’s 300th year celebration of serving the finest cognac, The Vanguard Series will include a unique series of events in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta where fans can experience live performances by The Roots, DJ sets by Questlove, cocktails, food and much more.

READ: A Stunning Look At Questlove’s Trip To Cuba

VIBE recently caught up with Black Thought and Questlove for a brief convo’ about their collaboration, why it made sense, The Roots’ fanbase and more.

VIBE: Well, first off congrats are due. How was this opportunity presented to you?
Black Thought: It was presented to us as an opportunity to link up with a brand that’s comparable to us in an abstract kind of way. This is called The Vanguard Series. The Roots are well-respected and considered vanguards in the music. We’re mavericks in our own world and that’s kind of what Martell is.

CREDIT: Martell

So it was a no-brainer or were there any concerns? 
Black Thought: It was a couple years, we didn’t rush the judgment.

What were some of the things that you were hesitant about?
Questlove: Our involvement in just the creative aspect, which we felt was cool because it’s delving into three areas. One, obviously in which The Roots will do a few shows around the country. Then, also doing kind of a tastemaker party where I DJ, and also the food venture that I have, working on that as well.  So I’ll do this collaborative thing with different saloons. So it’s one thing just to do the endorsement, but it’s another thing to serve as a means to do events.

How did you celebrate?
Black Thought: I popped some Martell (Laughs).
Questlove: This Wednesday is the second day of five different food saloons that we’re throwing. It’s kind of the party aspect, and it’s really unprecedented where chefs are now seen as the new rock stars. Literally, the chefs’ world is like watching the MCs. Who’s the Rakim of that world? Who’s the new kid on the block? Who has everyone nervous about his restaurant? It’s the same game. They battle each other. Send shots on Twitter. So seeing this is just like watching MCs back in the day. Right now, this is like the Tunnel and FunkFlex (laughs).

Is this what The Roots envisioned when you guys first started your careers?
Questlove: Here’s the thing, we made these vision boards back in high school of our record reviews, and stuff. But it was like small stuff like: ‘yeah, we gon’ get signed to Def Jam, then we gon’ make this record and we gon’ call this this, call this record this.’ So when we signed our record deal in ’92, I couldn’t envision 1999. Now, I see 1999 like I see 1981. It’s so far in the past. But I couldn’t see that far into the future. Pretty much, anyone in hip-hop, it’s such a live for the moment thing and people rarely play chess and think moves ahead. So yeah, this is really uncharted territory.

I think for us to navigate how this ship is going has to be one day at a time. Whereas, we also have to plan five years into the future. Yeah, I’m seeing 2025 like: ‘What am I going to be doing at that particular place in my life?’

I’ve been wanting to ask you this for a while now. So, here it is: How has white cultural appropriation benefited The Roots?
Black Thougth: I think at the end of the day the diversity has served as a major…that’s what has determined the difference between The Roots and some of the other artists from our graduating class. I feel we followed the De La Soul, the Native Tongue blueprint. But even beyond that, it’s always been our thing. We’ve always been a band that intentionally transcended race and age.

Just because of where we come from as musicians. Out litmus test, our trial ground was out in the streets in a part of Philly that was a diverse intersection. So, coming from that being able to appeal to the people in the strip club as well as the kids on college campus as well as their parents, I think that’s what helped us maintain our relevance.