Next week Philadelphia hip hop band The Roots return with their eighth album Rising Down. We heard from drummer Questlove and rapper Black Thought.
What's the official line up of the band?
Questlove: We're the parents of The Roots, so really the buck stops between myself and Black Thought. Then you've got the nucleus-members, like Kumal on keyboards. Our bass player Hub has recently retired, but our original guitar player Kirk Douglas is still here, he's been with us for five years. Then there's Knuckles, our first percussionist, he's been with us since 2001.
Black Thought: Well, I wouldn't say Kirk was our first guitar player.
Q: Oh yeah, I forgot about Ben Kenny, on bass.
BT: Ben, who is the bass player for Incubus, was actually The Roots' first guitar player. Then we met Incubus on tour, and he -
Q: They stole him!
BT: Ha ha! Yeah, he went off with Incubus. They stole him so well that we forgot that he was our first guitarist!
Q: Then we got our first Tuba player, Damon Bryson. "Tuba Gooding Junior". It's not like a Gang Of Five or The Temptations situation, where you don't know who's in the band at any one time.
DD: Who else is on the album?
Q: Mos Def is on the title track. Then there's Porn, he's been rhyming for fifteen years. Then we've got Chuck North, who appears on a song called "Singer Man", which takes the warped perspective of why killers do things they do.
BT: Like it's asking for the justification for violence. Verse for verse, there's never three lines in the songs that are about the same thing, or songs that are sung by the same person on this album.
Q: There's Wale, whose an MC from Washington DC, rapping go-go and hip hop, which is very hard to do.
BT: He's been working real hard, so hopefully things are gonna pop off soon for Wale.
DD: What drives you creatively?
Q: I think a big part of the process is the one that Barry Gordy used, the assembly line system. Usually, if the artist is in seclusion, they might hit a stride where they have some moments of pure genius. But then they will also have moments where they think that the sun rises and sets on them, and that's usually when the yes-men come along. We're just fortunate enough to be in a position where we surround ourselves with people who aren't afraid to dis us, even though they're on the payroll. At the time, your feelings can get hurt, because you put a lot of effort into the music, but it makes you work harder.
BT: That's right – it's quality control, and it helps raise the bar. Not just for us, but for everyone who's working on the record. After you've done that to two or three songs, every song, every beat on the record has to be up to that standard.
DD: How much of an obligation do you feel towards social commentary?
BT: A lot, because many people have come to expect that from the Roots. The way we branded ourselves was as intellectual artists. So people expect us to give them a little bit more than a nursery rhyme! There is that expectation of us, and I feel this record show's that's where we're at now. With every record, we try to represent where we are as a band, in the world, and as a nation, as a community. But right now is probably some of the most politically-charged times in history, so we've had to make our record as politically-minded.