The Roots, Grammy® Award winners, became the iconic hip-hop band of this decade on the strength of their genre-bending live instrumentation and forward-reaching lyrical brilliance.
Alongside founders Questlove and Black Thought, the lineup includes Damon Bryson, Frank Knuckles, Captain Kirk, Kamal (pictured but no longer plays with The Roots), Owen Biddle, and James Poyser. Embodying the very spirit and creative spark of the city, they have long been Philly’s favorite sons.
You can catch them regularly as the houseband on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. You can also see them live at their annual Roots Picnic in Philly, as well as their Philly Fourth of July Jam every July 4 in Philly.
The Roots were the houseband on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon prior to moving over the Tonight Show in 2014.
Here, Questlove answers on behalf of The Roots and shares his Philly story:
What does it mean to be creative ambassadors for the city?
It makes sense. I think we’ve done a lot for the city culturally in the last 17 years. The Roots’ rise has been more like the tortoise and the hare, but we will make the finish line eventually. We are in a rare position—still together as a band after 17 years, with a record deal.
Why do you choose to live in Philly?
People have yet to discover that Philly is the last cosmopolitan city that’s as affordable as an industrial city. It’s priced like an industrial city, but it’s still hip like a cosmopolitan city. Philly’s potential has yet to be realized. A lot of New Yorkers are still under the impression that Philly is four to five hours away, but I tell them if they don’t use the West Side Highway to get to Queens, we can definitely beat them going home. I just think Philly is a still-undiscovered palette of gems. There’s a huge amount of culture and things to be discovered here.
How does the city inspire you?
The Philadelphia I knew of was caught somewhere between the post-doo-wop generation and Gamble and Huff’s contribution, their invention of modern disco as we know it. That’s the environment we grew up with on Broad Street. Philadelphia International Records was near the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, so you soak all that in.
What is something a person wouldn’t know about Philly unless they were from here?
They definitely don’t know the musical history behind it. From a jazz standpoint—between Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie—a lot of cats lived in Philadelphia. They don’t know about the musical heritage. The Roots have always claimed Philadelphia with great pride and alacrity and shouted it from the highest mountains.
What Philly icon do you admire?
Miss Patti LaBelle, for one, but she has been lying through her teeth. For years, she’s been promising me potato salad. Ever since 1989, I’ve been waiting to taste this damn potato salad, and I have yet to get any part of this woman’s cooking.