The Roots are an American hip hop band, formed in 1987 by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The Roots serve as the house band on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, having served in the same role on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from 2009 to 2014.
The Roots are known for a jazzy and eclectic approach to hip-hop featuring live musical instruments and the group’s work has consistently been met with critical acclaim. ThoughtCo ranked the band #7 on its list of the 25 Best Hip-Hop Groups of All-Time, calling them “Hip-hop’s first legitimate band.”
In addition to the band’s music, several members of the Roots are involved in side projects, including record production, acting, and regularly serving as guests on other musicians’ albums and live shows.
The Roots’ original lineup included Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter (MC) and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (drums), classmates at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. As they began to play at school and on local streets, they added bassist Josh “The Rubberband” Abrams, who went on to form the jazz group The Josh Abrams Quartet. They later added another MC, Malik Abdul Basit-Smart (“Malik B.”) and Leonard Nelson “Hub” Hubbard (bass), and Scott Storch (keyboards). Kenyatta “Kid Crumbs” Warren (MC) was in the band for Organix, the Roots’ first album release. Another MC, Dice Raw, joined the band in cameo appearances on later albums. The band filled Storch’s position with Kamal Gray (keyboards), who continues in that capacity. Kamal Gray did not play with the Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon between April or May and early September 2012. His absence was not publicly explained, however on the September 17, 2012 (NBC’s ‘Late Night’ 700th) episode, Gray returned to the group. Beatboxer Rahzel was a band member from 1995 to 1999. Alongside Rahzel was turntablist/vocalist Scratch, who also DJ’d in live concerts. However Scratch left abruptly in 2003. Malik B. left the group in 1999 due to personal reasons but continued to record, making occasional cameos on some albums. Guitarist Ben Kenney, had a brief stint with the group and contributed to the Phrenology album, but left to join Incubus as bassist. Percussionist Frank Knuckles joined the lineup in 2002 and guitarist Kirk “Captain Kirk” Douglas replaced Kenney. Vocalist Martin Luther toured with the Roots in 2003 and 2004 and contributed to the Tipping Point album. The group announced in August 2007 that its longtime bassist Leonard Hubbard was leaving. Owen Biddle was the band’s bassist in 2007–2011.
The band announced on August 25, 2011 that Owen Biddle left the band, replaced by Mark Kelley. On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, James Poyser plays additional keyboards.
Because most of the band members hail from Philadelphia and its surrounding area, they showed their support for the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2009 World Series against the New York Yankees, displaying Phillies memorabilia when performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the episode which aired the day after the Yankees clinched the title, Questlove stated “No comment!” on the show’s intro (when he usually states the episode number), and had a Yankees logo purposely displayed upside-down on his drumset. In 2010, the group showed support for the Philadelphia Flyers during their run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals by having the team logo on their drumset, and again in 2014 when the Flyers faced the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Photo: Def Jam0