The Roots have always been different from other hip-hop artists: while others are at their best in the studio, the Roots' live show (which they hone by being on the road more often than back home in Philadelphia) has always been their forte; while others acknowledge those who came before them only by sampling past hits, the Roots routinely perform a hip-hop history lesson; while others rely on a DJ, the Roots are a full-functional, take-no-prisoners live band
that features vocalist Scratch, who impersonates a turntable. (They've also got human beatbox Rahzel, who makes the music with his mouth.) Despite a minor hit with "You Got Me", from their fourth album, Things Fall Apart
, they've never made an album that matches their live show--which is why Come Alive
is so special. A collection of songs recorded live during the their 1999 tours (filled out with a handful of studio tracks), it's easily their finest moment on wax (or any other medium). What other hip-hop group could turn a live performance of their biggest hit into an extended jam, highlighting the talents of guest vocalist Jill Scott?
In the early 1990s, Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA was feted for his use of pianos and strings, just as GangStarr's Premier has been recogniSed for his innovative use of rare and classic jazz. The Roots, on the other hand, are led by drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, who probably performs innovative fills while waiting in line at the bank; joined by ace bassist Leon "Hub" Hubbard and keyboardist Kamal, they form a trio that, in another decade, would be one of Blue Note's mainstays. On Come Alive, they get to strut their stuff as never before, resulting in what is easily the best live hip-hop album to date--and, hopefully, just a hint of what is to come from Philly's finest. --Randy Silver