Music Feature

Let's Move It Philly!! Black Thought On Trying To "Tip The Scale"

by Joshua Pelta-Heller
Black Thought and the Roots Crew campaign to raise awareness for childhood obesity in Philly and beyond. Photos by Joshua Pelta-Heller
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On Saturday, February 18th, The Legendary Roots Crew bring a host of talent to Philly’s Sigma Sound Stage, including DJs Rich Medina and Diamond Kuts, and vocalist Nikki Jean.  Their 13-city tour, Let’s Move It!!, is a campaign designed to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, focusing specifically on an at-risk population: young underprivileged women.  This weekend, it begins right here in Philly.

Two weeks ago, we talked to Rich Medina about his work with the tour, and his growth as an artist and activist.  Last week, Tariq Trotter (Black Thought, while he tears through a set of his crafted lyrics as the commanding leader of the Roots’ stage show) took some time to talk to me about his vision for this event, the campaign, his GrassROOTS organization, and the motivations that fueled his decision to collect all this talent behind the cause.

Two.One.Five Magazine:  So many artists and bands create their craft but shy away from material or events with a politically charged or socially conscious message.  What drives you and the Roots to want to use the medium as a forum or catalyst for social change?

Tariq Trotter:  It’s just something I decided to do personally.  I have a responsibility as a Philadelphian and a father of a young girl, and this is my way of giving back to the community that our family comes from.  The Roots are on board because I’m on board.  This mostly derives from my personal goals.

T.O.FM:  You guys have done advocacy work for years now and for a number of various causes, but what in particular drew your focus to this one?

TT:  The rate of childhood obesity and obesity in general in Philadelphia.  The high school obesity rate [in Philadelphia] is around 17%, which is 5% above the national average, and the rate of obesity amongst poor people and underprivileged people in the city is at around 51%.  When you add that in with the general rate of obesity here which is around 40% among black people, it’s clearly an issue that deserves to be addressed.  [We’re focused on] young, underprivileged, at-risk girls, primarily.

T.O.FM:  Why did you decide to focus on girls in particular?

TT:  The woman is the salvation of our society, it’s something that I want to preserve and that I identify with because I have a young school-aged girl.

T.O.FM:  In hosting these sorts of events to raise awareness, raise money and fight the epidemic, what do you feel is the most prominent challenge you face in terms of correcting and improving the lifestyles of these kids?

TT:  Maybe the most challenging thing is going to be consistency, being able to offer some sort of relief that’s going to have staying power, and not just putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.  That sort of consistency and advocacy takes funding, and that’s part of the challenge too, getting dollars and cents behind the effort.

T.O.FM:  The people who are going to be coming to this show isn’t the kids who are at risk, it’s their parents.  What’s your message going to be to the parents in terms of beginning to implement certain lifestyle changes with their kids?

TT:  It’s going to be a call to action, and an eye-opener.  I’m not going to necessarily be preaching to people. We’re going to be letting them know what our objective is and why, and hopefully they’ll be entertained, but we’ll also make a lasting impression on them.  Hopefully they’ll want to get involved, in the form of a donation, or a donation of time and energy. That’s what I want the parents to leave with.

T.O.FM:  What’s been the most rewarding aspect of the GrassROOTS work, for you?  Have you felt as though there’s been evidence that the work you’re doing is making a real difference?

TT:  I feel like it’s therapeutic for me. The reward I get is that it makes me feel good to give back.  It’s cathartic.  I’m not involved in this program to be more popular or more famous.  The least of my interests is the spotlight!  Hopefully this is going to make Philadelphia and Philadelphians better -- and beyond Philly, but I identify with Philly the most.

T.O.FM:  We understand you’re doing a 13-city tour, for this initiative, but of course changing lifestyles to include healthier diets and exercise takes a lot of effort over a long period of time – are there any other legacy events that your organization hosts that people should know about in which they can get involved and stay involved to make these changes?

TT:  There are gonna be many more events to follow, on the horizon, but right now, the focus is on this one in particular. This is the one-year anniversary-slash-celebratory event, so we’re kind of just focusing on this one.  We plan on doing events all over. Right now, we’re forging a relationship with Madison Square Garden in New York, so we may be doing something in conjunction with them and with New York City.

T.O.FM:  What can we expect at the actual event?

TT:  I don’t have any structured performance. We’re gonna get some talent together in a room with people who are interested in seeing what they’re able to bring to the table, and we’re gonna do what we do.  We bring Philadelphia DJs, a brilliant musician and vocalist in Nikki Jean, and I’m gonna do what I do.  I’m a singer, a rapper, I’m a speaker, an entertainer, and I plan to do it all at this event. You can also make donations [to the cause] on site at this event.

T.O.FM: In an interview last week, Rich Medina mentioned to us that you might have some kind of relationship starting with the Philadelphia government to start to try to employ some kind of programs in Philadelphia for health consciousness, do you know anything more about that?

TT:  Mayor Nutter is definitely on board to do whatever he can to help.  He’s gonna be in attendance, and some of the state representatives are going to be in attendance, and hopefully moving forward, we’ll be doing more events in concert with the City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania.  And they have Let’s Move and Let’s Read initiatives, that we’ll probably be joining forces with in some way.

T.O.FM:  Philly boasts growing urban and local agricultural movements.  Have you guys ever thought about reaching out to the people who are directly involved with these urban farming programs and building the momentum of this cause with them?

TT:  Definitely.  That’s some thing that we’ve considered, and is in planning.

T.O.FM:  Have the Roots ever thought about doing a kids workout CD or soundtrack?

TT:  The Roots have considered doing a kids’ work out CD or a collection of children’s music, but it hasn’t happened yet. We got the idea from the music that was done on shows like “Yo Gabba Gabba,” and it might be on the horizon.

T.O.FM:  Last question -- Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity a focus of her term as First Lady.  Have the Roots taken the President’s Challenge?

TT:  I can’t say that we have!  We’re all very fitness-conscious . . . we definitely move it, we exercise, we try to eat right, and try to lead by example.  Maybe we will be accepting that challenge!

Admission to the event on 2/18 is $30 ($40 at the door), and can be purchased via the GrassROOTS website.

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