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12:00 AM Monday, 8/30/99 |   |

THE ROOTS ARE REBELS AMONG THE HIP-HOP community. While the genre's ongoing trend has been to focus heavily on album sales rather than concert ticket sales, the Philadelphia-based outfit does exactly the opposite.

"We don't have what's called a hit record where there's a royalty check coming from the publishing company that has a decimal point and zeroes on the left side," said the group's upright bassist, Leonard Hubbard. "That's not the case."

Instead, The Roots display a prowess for taking their music to the stage – any stage, for that matter. The band's tour dates this year encompass everything from opening for the Dave Matthews Band in 70,000-capacity stadiums to headlining the more intimate 2,000-seat-and-under venues.

Although there's nothing earth-shattering about rap and hip-hop groups touring and generating significant box office receipts – evident by the Hard Knock Life Tour, Smokin' Grooves and similar outings – the true achievement is when a single group in the genre consistently does so.

"You don't make money sitting at home," Hubbard said jokingly during a conversation with POLLSTAR. But that reveals very little when it comes to understanding the success achieved by The Roots.

"We're not in the days of the Michael Jackson superstar anymore," he said. "It's just a well-produced track and a video, and then we got it. That's the formula. It's all been figured out. And if those are the standards at this point, then the game is wide open."

Similar to the group rejecting the traditional hip-hop formula set forth by the industry, the members of The Roots have created their own game with their own rules. "Music is just music," Hubbard explained. "And a style of music is just something that someone puts on it so they could sell it to you. We have to call it a certain style so we can market it and sell it to you, so you know what T-shirt to buy."

He continued, "As far as people having music with a certain texture – saying it's either rock or blues or metal because of the tempo, or whether this guy is talking or speaking or singing is going to make it a rap or hip-hop song – I'm against all that kind of stuff."

Hubbard's perspective on categorically labeling music falls in line with The Roots' other rebellious features, which include using accomplished musicians who perform onstage with instruments.

"There's plenty of other people who are playing hip-hop music on instruments, but we're the only accepted band for the genre of music that has been approved by the listening audience," he said. "We didn't know that it would be groundbreaking whenever we started out doing this. ... That's sort of crazy."

The group's founders, lead vocalist Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) and drummer ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson), met while attending Philadelphia's High School for the Performing Arts. "They began just freestyle, working together between cutting classes, so to speak," Hubbard said.

The group hit the Philly circuit before taking its live show to Europe. An invitation to perform at a new-music festival in Germany resulted in the group producing its debut CD, Organix, and finding an embracing European audience.

  • The Roots

    Standing: Scratch
    Leonard Hubba
    August 30, 1999


"You don't have to have a hit record to be appreciated [in Europe]," Hubbard said. "In our country, you have to have a hit record, you have to have a hit video for somebody to say, ‘OK, we can book you.' ... You don't get on a tour unless you have some other kind of money-making credibility already."

The Roots have developed a strong credibility in the industry and among its fans. The group has released four studio albums; its most recent, Things Fall Apart on MCA Records, has shipped a proud 650,000 copies since its February release, according to SoundScan. The band is adding the final touches on a live album, due later this year.

Also keeping The Roots on its feet are numerous side projects, which include contributions to movie soundtracks, collaborations with other artists such as Erykah Badu and Joe Sample, and creating an imprint under MCA called Motive. The band is already working on its first signing, a female R&B duo dubbed the Jazzyfatnastees.

But it's the group's rigorous tour schedule that occupies a good portion of each year. Much of that can be credited to the William Morris Agency, which has landed the band tours with the Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and Beck. The Roots are opening for Everlast on a cross-country trip that runs into September.

The Roots' manager, Richard Nichols of Watch Your Back Management, has been a longtime friend of the group, said Hubbard, who has personally known Nichols since kindergarten. "It's like family," he said. "In a business that's so hung up on [money], it's really cool for my people to take care of my business and everything is straight."

Having one less worry has allowed The Roots to focus on creating music and thrilling audiences worldwide. "It's real hard to get something creative in the public eye and I think that's why people love The Roots. They can actually see we have a whole lot of integrity and creativity in what we're doing, yet we don't have the mainstream success," Hubbard said.

"Can't nobody mess with this group as far as the talent that's on that stage. Nope, not at all. People see and recognize that, and I think that's the actual staying power of the group as well."


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