Tag Archives: The Roots

Did You Hear? A Peace of Light

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

The Roots might be the only group who crosses the boundary between hip-hop and a cappella nerds. This week’s Did You Hear? features the opening instrumental track from the Album How I Got Over, released in 2010. It’s also the third post I’ve done showcasing thick, swarming, amazing harmonies. If this track isn’t quite “rootsy” enough for ya, check out “Right On,” from the same album, featuring Ms. Joanna Newsom, who is an amazing artist in her own right and a childhood friend of mine (more from her later).

– Brook Reeder

Leave a Comment

Filed under Brook Reeder, Did You Hear?

Books that Mattered in 2013: Mo’ Meta Blues

FA Mo Meta

Earlier this month, Time magazine named Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson The Coolest Person of 2013. The award confirms a truth universally acknowledged: that everybody loves Questlove. This in itself is a notable phenomenon in our day and age. Who else can you say that about? Not Obama. For damn sure not Kanye. Maybe John Stewart or Stephen Colbert? Maybe. Even Mandela has his detractors. But for sure everybody loves Questlove. Even the people who were mad at him about that whole Michelle Bachman thing were really just disappointed that someone they love so much had been rude to a guest.

If you had told me a decade ago that America would want to be friends with a 6’4”, 300 pound black man from an experimental Philly hip hop group — a guy who used to spell his name with an actual question mark — I might have doubted your foresight. But it happened. And this book helps explain how. Quest’s story is neither bricks nor billboard, exactly. It’s more fun and less gritty than a coming-up-tough narrative, propelled instead by Ahmir Thompson’s vocation, which is to make more of the music he loves. Mo’ Meta Blues is vital simply for the catalog of tracks it exposed people to this year.

But there’s more to it than that. A recurring tension in the book centers on the racial/cultural boundaries and expectations surrounding certain kinds of work. Early on, Questlove talks about his closeted childhood love of the Beach Boys, saying “You couldn’t look like me and be black in West Philadelphia and love the Beach Boys the way I did.” These are the kinds of walls that artists like The Roots have helped topple in the last decade and a half, which is a bigger deal than it may seem, since it makes it much easier to knock down a whole host of other arbitrary boundaries our society has simply outgrown. (The 54% of 18 to 29-year-old white voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 grew up on hip hop and The Roots. Just sayin’.)

One month after the book was published, Questlove reminded us of the distance that remains. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, he posted an emotionally charged response on his Facebook page, which ended up going viral as “Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit.” When you consider whether Zimmerman, or at least the jury in the trial, had looked at Trayvon Martin and seen a kid who might like the Beach Boys, rather than a thug or a punk or a lot of other words I’m not going to write here, then you begin to understand the true transformative power of a good record, of everybody loving something in common.  That’s why Mo’ Meta Blues is on our list of Books that Mattered in 2013.

See the Books that Mattered in 2013.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books that Mattered in 2013

Non-Fiction Advocate of the Day


Alexander Nazaryan at the Atlantic Wire says you should read Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace’s recently re-released collaboration with Mark Costello about the emergence of hip hop in America.

A book about rap written a quarter century ago by two very white guys has tremendous potential to be embarrassing. I am happy to report that Signifying Rappers did not make me cringe a single time, though I did have to look up both cultural references (Schooly D) and words from DFW’s famously capacious lexicon (epiclesis; seriously, Dave?). It is also probably the only book about popular music to seriously discuss the origins of synecdochal imagery.

At heart, this book has heart. Its message is simple and humane. “Rap is poetry”…

This is part of the Wallace collection I have not gotten to, but Nazaryan gives it a healthy endorsement. My recommendation is to go buy Signifying Rappers, then get yourself copies of “Yeezus,” “Magna Carta Holy Grail” and Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues and make a summer out of it.

And if this Dave Wallace and Mark Costello collaboration isn’t grabbing you, maybe the new track from Elvis Costello and The Roots is more your speed:

– Michael Moats

Leave a Comment

Filed under David Foster Wallace, Fiction Advocate of the Day