Who are the roots? If by now you haven't already heard of the Philadelphia bred Hip-Hop "band", the term `Hip-Hop head' means nothing to you. More famously consisting of front-men Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, lyricist, and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, drummer and producer for the group, the Roots have done more than state their presence in the music world. With a well-deserved Grammy under their belt and world tours in their résumé comes HOME GROWN! THE BEGGINERS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING THE ROOTS. A two-volume, separately packaged release compiled of songs old, new and never before heard come together not to create a "best of" album but more of an icebreaker to their music. The album title, which speaks for itself, is a must have for any roots fan. Whether a diehard since the Organix sessions or newbie following up the release of their most recent The Tipping Point sessions, both volumes give the ultimate Roots experience.
Volume two, a 14 track CD picks up where Volume one leaves off. Cognate to Volume one, it too includes unreleased tracks, remixes and live performances. With songs like the Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane inspired "BOOM!" to remixed versions of "Break You Off" and "Don't Say Nuthin," the album does well at grabbing you by the ears. Liner notes narrating the groups in studio struggles, song inspirations and meanings, also makes as a nice special feature for the record. Summing up your whole musical career isn't an easy task but ?uestlove takes the challenge head on with HOME GROWN! and succeeds.
As early as 1987, live instruments have been the forte of the group going 18 years strong. As a band, they reflect their grooving capabilities on the snare driven segue of "The Seed/ Melting Pot/ Web," where revisits "The Seed" with a more soulful vibe. Rather than the rock version as it appeared on the Phrenology album in 2003, the Seed fits into the array of instrumental arrangements on the full-flavored, musical "Melting Pot," giving the listener a short vacation from the fabricated synthesizers and drums of the cliché rap album. Then at his own cue, Black Thought comes in pushing forward his bravado with "And it weights a ton/ `Riq Gee's Motherf**kers I'm a son of a gun/ Black master of any trade under the son/ Talk sharp like a razorblade under the tongue," putting "Web" into the blend. It gives the album a distinct feeling of being at a live Roots performance.
Adding to the "live" feel of the album is "Essaywhuman?!!!!!." With a disquiet crowd establishing the environmental setting of what would be a club, a younger Black Thought finds himself beat boxing and rapping simultaneously over a jazz song. Tariq Trotter's stage moniker, having some near bursts of laughter and reactions to statements made by audience outbursts keeps the authentic feel to the Roots crew's music.
While "Pass The Popcorn (Revisted)" may feel to old-school for the modern day Hip-Hop fan, "No Alibi" makes you feel like its '96 again. Both eerie and gloomy, think of post War Report Tragedy Khadafi's intellect over a Mobb Deep instrumental to get the gist of the dreary street image it portrays. It also contains one of Black Thoughts more impressive work as a lyricist. "My grains habitual and I should never go against/ The ritual I've been mastering ever since" shows a spoken ethic to be followed by Trotter and the Roots though their career. Keeping to their independent, yet open-minded creative ability is what kept them afloat for so long.
A remake of "Din Da Da" by German musician George Kranz finds ?uestlove fulfilling his desire to make a danceable drum solo. While a lyric enthusiast would rather cut the album short to 13 tracks, leaving "Din Da Da" out of the big picture, it does however follow the formula to the drum and rhythm based endings to most of the Roots albums.
Along with guest appearances by Philly native Beanie Sigel and Dice Raw, HOME GROWN! THE BEGGINERS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING THE ROOTS is a good start or add to your Roots collection. If you have just unwrapped the cellophane plastic around the jewel case, I advise you to pick up a pair of headphones and prepare yourself to be schooled.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Key Tracks: No Alibi, The Lesson Pt. 3