Music Feature

You Tube Review: Back in the Day with The Roots

by Ryan O'Connell
The Roots live in in Philly...in 1993.

“I hope you guys kept your ticket stubs,” says the man in the CB4 hat. That man is Joe Young and he would eventually become Questlove’s manager. Thanks to some “bus accident money,” he was the dude who recorded the Roots’ first album, Organix.

Where were you in December of 1993? The baby-faced and not quite legendary Roots were at the Painted Bride Arts Center just off of Old City, playing their first ever show as The Roots. History buffs will point out that the band started out as the Square Roots. However, that name fell by the wayside and this show was the debut of the new band name. Last week, Questlove released a six minute video of this now infamous performance. Diehard fans will recognize that Roots’ sound right away.

Oh and congratulations to seat number 99…you won something.

There are no guitars, percussionists, extra keyboards or dancing tuba players in this incarnation of the Roots. It’s just Questlove (sans Afro) on drums, Leonard Hubbard on bass (and rocking a nasty dashiki,) Scott Starch on keys, and Millersville University classmates Malik B and Black Thought on vocals. There’s no Radiohead samples, no drop ins from Common or Mos Def and no hooks by Erykah Badu or Jill Scott. There’s just energy and Black Thought’s sweat.

“Sit back and just relax y’all.”

If you close your eyes, there are parts that remind me of the live album, the Roots Come Alive- specifically the back and forth between Black Thought and Questlove, beat boxing and drumming respectively. Questlove looks like he’s playing on pots and pans, definitely not the polished drum kits he’s rocking these days. These kinds of videos should be reassuring to struggling musicians everywhere because ultimately, back in the day everyone started out with shitty gear. That’s life. Get some money and the gear improves. Until then, drummers just have to be cool with having mismatched toms and guitarists will have to get by with Gibson and Fender rip offs.

“This is the Roots. They’re gonna rock it.”

In 1993, the Roots were a novelty because live music and hip hop just really didn’t exist together on the same stage. With Aerosmith and Run DMC being the main exception, live drums’ backing a rapper wasn’t a thing yet. To this day, the Roots are known as innovators but when you watch this video, you realize that innovators are what they have always been.

Questlove has promised more clips from this show will be released and eventually, maybe the show in it’s entirety. History lessons in music are just as important as history lessons in politics. We need to see where the great ones came from in order to understand what made them great. While you don’t necessarily watch this video and instantly think the Roots as they appeared in 1993 will become the band they are today, you do see five dudes doing something fresh and original- traits that follow the band to this day.

So where we you in 1993?

Watch the first clip of this 1993 show here.

You Tube review is a regular feature, where quite honestly, we review shows we weren't able to get to via You Tube.

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