For the first time ever, a hip-hop band is the house band for one of the biggest late night institutions in history, NBC’s The Tonight Show. That band, The Roots, adds a fresh home-grown appeal to Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talker, honestly making Jimmy more cool. Because let’s face it, anything The Roots touches automatically becomes More Cool.
The Roots are one of the most organic, quirky and unique musical acts in hip-hop today. Mixing neo-soul, eclectic sounds, and alternative with rap, they’ve expanded the genre of hip-hop to include a myriad of musical styles. Ten studio albums and many high-profile collabos later, The Roots have emerged as critical darlings, variety tastemakers – and perhaps one of the first true bands of hip-hop.
Musically, you can count on them to deliver intelligentsia, brainy creativity that references literary works such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (on their album of the same name). Or you might get a dose of political and social commentary on How I Got Over which expresses the band’s relief when Obama took over the Bush administration.
Now, they’ve added TV to their line-up. The Roots are up for an Emmy for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (which garnered a nod for Best Variety Series). But although they were Jimmy’s top pick since he hosted Late Night, it wasn’t all roses for the band.
As per usual when it comes to hip-hop breaking into mainstream society, there was a bit of stereotyping and marginalization. Some NBC suits were not so sure The Roots could cut it. They were a great rap act but… did they have the variety and artistic range it takes to jam with other musical styles? The band was quickly put on a 13-week probation cycle.
Band leader Questlove (he of the trademark afro and pick) tells NPR, “They were, like, throwing crazy stuff at us … they’d come and be like, ‘You guys got three minutes to come up with an Andrew Lloyd Webber reference.’ … That’s how the game ‘Freestylin’ with the Roots’ was invented,” Questlove says. [“Freestylin” references Johnny Carson’s original game “Stump The Band”.] “Once we did it, then they threw that [out, saying], ‘You guys are ours forever. Forget that 13-week meeting thing.'”
Now as Jimmy’s house band, the always innovative Roots slow-jammed the news (with Mitt Romney and President Obama!), remixed a kiddie instrument version of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and even backed Jimmy and Justin Timberlake as they rapped “The History Of Rap”. Now that’s variety.
“It’s strange to admit it, but this is kinda the job we were born for.”