Everyone needs to see The Roots live at least once in their life (but probably more)

OPINION: Seeing The Roots live in Los Angeles over new year’s weekend gave me a new appreciation for just how much they contribute to the culture. 

The Roots live, theGrio.com
Black Thought of The Roots performs during Philly Fights Cancer: Round 6 at The Fillmore Philadelphia on May 20, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Philly Fights Cancer )

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Everyone should make it a point to see The Roots live at least one time in their life, whether they are a fan of the hip-hop genre or not. 

This is the thought that kept repeating in my mind Saturday night as I watched Black Thought (real name Tariq Trotter) perform a set of hip-hop covers that included EPMD’s “So Whatcha Sayin’” and Main Source’s “Looking at the Front Door.” 

The live band backing him had two percussionists, including Questlove on drums; multiple guitar and bass players; a horn section, and a tuba player who danced around the stage carrying that big-ass horn for the entire 90-minute performance. 

The Roots are one of hip-hop’s greatest acts, hands down. There are no qualifiers. 

It’s not just the fact Black Thought is one of the greatest MCs of all time. It’s not just the fact they’ve given us an entire catalog of evergreen classics that we can relate to no matter what phase of our lives we are in. 

It’s about the way The Roots are an actual band, and no matter how many times you see them live, you will never get the same show twice. 

I’ve seen them multiple times a year every year since 2002 (save for the quarantine/shutdown years). Their shows are an “in the moment” vibe reminiscent of jam bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead. 

If the culture of Dead and Phish shows translated to hip-hop, people would be recording and swapping Roots shows because each one is that unique. 

The group doesn’t just play songs from their catalog that they know their audience will appreciate; they play songs from the catalogs of other artists they appreciate, and their appreciation of those songs shines through in their performances, which in turn increases the level of appreciation from the audience in attendance. 

Recommended Stories

It creates a vibe of unpredictability with the audience (at least those who are truly there to appreciate the performance and not those who are simply there to say they were in the building — and trust me, there were plenty of those types in attendance); you never know what’s coming next, but you know it’s going to be good. 

When this is coupled with Black Thought’s unmatched microphone prowess, lyricism and unbelievable breathwork (seriously, the man can go for what seems like long minutes of rapping without ever pausing or taking a breath), it’s like witnessing magic or a hip-hop miracle as it were. 

And they aren’t just performing hip-hop songs. They infuse some of everything in their sets. The jam band aesthetic means they can pretty much take on any artist’s composition, and the fact that they are a real band means they can make it sound good. 

One of the featured guitar players had a solo where he made the guitar sing the lyrics to the song he was playing, and I’m not exaggerating. They are that good. 

The Roots are carrying on a long tradition of improvisational jazz bands that do much of the same thing during performances. They may be working from a set list, but they are going to give the audience what they want, and the performance is going to be largely guided by the vibes and feelings in the room at the time. 

It’s a type of call-and-response performance that leaves the audience completely satisfied and wanting for nothing at the end of the night. 

The Roots got multiple standing ovations and uproarious rounds of applause throughout the show on Saturday, and it was obvious that the audience got what they came for. 

I certainly got what I came for, and I came away from it wanting more – not because I felt like they left anything on the table, but because when a dish is that good, you always want to go back for seconds. 

The Roots are the jam band of hip-hop. Their lead singer is a singer and a prolific emcee, and the band itself is a study in great musicianship. 

All of these ingredients come together and give you a show that you will leave full and satisfied. 

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you go see The Roots live next time they are performing near you.

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter.