The Roots
House Party (Part II)


Being the Roots ain’t easy. Although they’ve managed to amass one of the most loyal fan bases in popular music through their incessant touring and consistent catalogue, their experimental nature has always kept them inches away from the record company chopping block. After departing Geffen—the label whose hip-hop identity they helped create—they finally seem to have found a pressure-free home in Def Jam. To hear ?uestlove talk about it, big bossman Jay-Z just wants The Roots to do them. But with no grain to go against, can the group still make powerful music? In the conclusion of XXLMAG.COM’s conversation with ?uest, he speaks on Jimmy Iovine’s spaghetti-on-the-wall theory, Jay-Z’s laissez-faire plan for success and why their new album, Game Theory, will be their version of Radiohead’s Kid A.

[Click Here if you missed Part 1, where ?uestlove speaks on preparing for their two-day Radio City Music Hall show, ghostwriting for Diddy and why Jay-Z is the Keyser Soze of rap.]

Why did you decide to leave Geffen after so many years with the label?
It wasn’t the same Geffen that we built from ’93. We’re the ones that brought Mos, Kweli, Common and Pharoahe Monch. We built the regime that was there. Back between ’93 and ’99, that was a time for experimentation. They had a very healthy catalogue that enabled them to squander $2 million to see if this “left-of-center hip-hop” thing would work or not. When the bottom fell out in ’99, when the catalogue started going down and it [became] obvious that Guns N’ Roses ain’t gonna turn in another record, we got transferred to MCA and then came back to Geffen, which is really just Interscope. They used the spaghetti theory, meaning just throw it on the wall, and if it sticks, it sticks. If it doesn’t stick, your ass is in trouble.

Is it possible for an artist like you to survive with expectations like those?
The solution for Common was really easy. We started working on the BE record in the very beginning and he was doing one or two songs with Kanye. I said, “Yo man, this is a whole new different era and you need to attach yourself at the hip to Kanye.” The name of the game is association and celebrity. Sure enough, once that association started and the heat started picking up, then [the record company] took an interest in him. But for our case and Kweli’s case, we said, “Look, if we leave this label, it’s not like you’re going to have a financial loss. You’ll probably save money because were going to spend a lot of money to make these records when you’re going to get diminishing returns.” It’s harder than just, Give me a hot radio single and we do the rest. We were choosing between four different labels, but we chose Def Jam for one reason and one reason only: everybody was an hour away from us. The CEO and President, L.A. Reid and Jay-Z, are New York-based. We’re signed to Def Jam proper, but we started Def Jam Left. Our idea was trying to start a label that would sort of be run like an indie, a Rawkus if you will. But we’re not signed to Def Jam Left. In order for this group to even survive, it takes money.

So how do you think things will be different on Def Jam?
In our head we’re like, Okay we’re never going to respond to any energy from the President. But Jay’s whole thing was the exact opposite. He went over the top on some, “Don’t come here with no radio bullshit. If y’all even think of walking in here with ‘Don’t say Nuthin’,’ you’ll embarrass me. I can see it now, like I signed the Roots, you come with some radio bullshit, and then everybody will blame me.” That was his concern from the gate. He said, “I want y’all to do the record you wanna do.”

It must have been a relief to hear that from a label.
That scared the shit out of me, ’cause I’m so used to playing the adversarial position. That actually crippled me for, like, a month. It’s just confusing. You take the Phrenology shit to the President and they’re like, “Is it necessary to have this free jazz shit in the middle?” Now, all of a sudden, he’s asking for an album full of “Waters.” That’s just as crippling as “Give me a radio hit.” But just after the initial four weeks, we finally fell into a groove.

You’ve said before that Game Theory is supposed to be a dark record. What exactly does that mean?
It won’t be “Lean Wit it, Rock Wit it”! [Laughs] It definitely has a mood to it, and hip-hop rarely gives this sort of vibe off. Most hip-hop records are always leaning towards giving you a mood that’s more or less something to do with aggression or a party atmosphere. You put “Shook Ones” on when you want to feel tough, and that’s what the backdrop is for hip-hop for most people. If they want to get romantic with their lady, I don’t think they’re going to put “Touch It” by Busta on. They’ll have their slow jams. But as far as this album is concerned, it’s very dark. Probably the darkest record that we had was Illadelph Halflife, but this is way darker than that. This is our Kid A album. Hopefully, your readers can understand my Radiohead reference. That’s an album that’s aggressive, but it’s a very serious, dark record.

So would you say there’s a certain vibe of sadness to it?
The only part I get sad on is the last track, “Can’t Stop This.” That’s my nine-minute “Water”-esque Dilla tribute. The thing is, I notice I have a bad habit of building it up in the press before it comes out. I will say that this is definitely our darkest record. I want people to know that we are very consistent in our inconsistency. Each album is different. As long as we’re able to do that, I’m borderline satisfied. This is the exact opposite of The Tipping Point. So thus, it’s a serious, dark record, but I don’t mean to say it’s a Killjoy.

Speaking of The Tipping Point, “Don’t Say Nuthin’” got a lot of mixed reactions. Is this record a response to that?
If people read our press, they understand the gun we were under at the time, and I’ve admitted it. We were on a label that was not the same label it was when we joined ten years ago. When you’re on a label in which 14 of the 23 artists are multi-platinum, and this one president is running them all, you know someone’s going to fall through the cracks. It’s not going to be Em, 50, Dre, Snoop, G-Unit, Pharrell, The Black Eyed Peas, Gwen or U2. Like, we played them “Star” and they had zero reaction to it. I personally think “Star” is one of our top ten songs. The fact that [Jimmy Iovine] didn’t have any history with Sly & the Family Stone like, “Who is that? He’s still alive?” I was like, Oh God, here we go.

roots11.jpgSo I’m assuming they responded differently to “Don’t Say Nuthin’”?
When “Don’t Say Nuthin’” was accidentally played, [Jimmy] was three seconds away from jumping on his table like, That’s the one! He called the staff in for an emergency meeting with the same 16 people who didn’t return our phone calls and scoffed at the budget. All of a sudden, Jimmy loves it, so it was night and day. That was the first time that we had any type of enthusiasm. MCA didn’t even do that when we played “You Got Me,” which was clearly our best attempt of meeting radio halfway. After the over-the-top nature of how they responded, it was like, Okay, this is where they want us to go. Keep it simple, straight ahead, no tricks. He was basically saying, I don’t like artsy-fartsy stuff. So we just took that to mean no preservatives, no additives, just give him a regular record and don’t confuse him. I guess we just didn’t take account of our fan base being like, Wait a minute, what are y’all trying to do? That’s the one thing we kind of forgot about.

Do you think radio is going to respond to something off this new record?
To be very honest with you, no. I don’t think radio has ever been the Roots’ friend. If there was one Roots album that could totally stretch the limits of our powers, I’d say that album was Phrenology. And just looking at “Break You Off,” Black radio was like, Yeah, right. And rock radio was like, I’ll take Green Day, thank you. The challenge is getting a label to realize that they kinda have to think outside the box.

Does the album have any surprise guests?
This is pretty much our affair. As far as guests, Malik B makes his grand return. This is a world record, he does three songs, so it’s almost like old times again. That makes me happy. I don’t know if people understand, Tariq is like the virtuoso MC, but Malik is sort of like the heart of the group. If you listen to his lyrics, especially on Things Fall Apart and Illadelph Halflife, he always has a narrative and wallows in the struggle that is his life. That comes back on this record. It’s so good that I’m going to give up my precious liner note space so that we can print the lyrics out. That was a hard decision because if anyone likes to ramble about the making of a record, it’s me.

So this isn’t going to be the “Roots featuring the Def Jam All-Stars” record that people might expect.
We knew that muthafuckas wanted a Ghost-Nas-Jay-Z orgy, but it didn’t lend itself to this record. If this were the type of record where I could have a “Live at the Barbeque” type of moment, then maybe. But anything could happen, because we’re actually two songs deep into the next album. The goal is to work our ass off till about January and then mix these babies and hopefully we’ll have something for fall of 2007. We can go in two directions with this post-Game Theory album. If we feel that we can go back to some feel lighthearted boom bap shit, y’all might get your wish. The whole thing is always based on where do we want to go. There are so many things we want to do.

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  • eskay

    “We knew that muthafuckas wanted a Ghost-Nas-Jay-Z orgy”

    ^ lol

  • Lupe Fiasco

    Most niggas dont like the single but its cold. I cant wait to see the vid though. The Roots come classic on wax and especially on vid. Those who hate the single will like it after the vid, and those who like the sing-lay will luv it after vid.

    The Real Food & Liquor–Coming Soon

  • Shahn

    I love the Roots. The name says it all. The Roots is our bridge between Jazz and Hip-hop (hence the name The Roots). Unlike these fly by night one hit wonder groups. The Roots stand for something, and if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. What these labels don’t know is where there roots truly are. They give us what they consider to be Hip-hop. What the New Millenium consumer doesn’t understand is that most of these executives are middle aged white men who rarley experienced poverty. So who are they to force feed us an art form that they can’t even relate too. The Roots may never experience main stream success but as long as they keep making real music they will go down in history as being the best Hop-hop group to ever do it. I’d also like to add that ?estlove is a very well spoken articulate brother. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that I didn’t think he wasn’t. I just never read and interview of him having his own platform to give his opinion. I met Black thought in Mexico and he was deep ass well. I’m glad to see these intelligent brothers moving in the same direction together. I guess that why we come from the city of Brotherly Love. You got Philly on ya back hold us down like The Roots you are. Check me (S-dubb out at


  • rip round’n rock

    i thought saigon was gonna be on the album?

  • TheBlackGodBorn

    The Roots is foundational Hiphop 101 people should stand up and listen clearly to the peace of mind trueness in hiphop brings all of the party rap must fall

  • ReDiCuLouS

    I would have liked to seen another “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” with Thought, Pharoah, & Talib…but whatever is clever. “Break You Off” is the most chill record I heard in a while son. “Gunz Come Out” was dope too….The Roots are Hip-Hop….not to the left, right,…THEY ARE HIP-HOP PERIOD.
    Fuck tha haters!!!!

  • TARAK from philly

    Yo Rediculous, I’m feelin you on that 2nd “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” they fucked shit up on that first one, a second one woulda been official. That Talib K. album was the truth. N.PHILLY!!!

  • slizzy

    H-MAN says:

    “Roots can spit. Damn, Loosin Roots is a great loss to us all, but he will live 4ever. RIP ROOTS

  • Knowledge Speaks

    Def Jam Left, huh? Can’t wait to see whose gonna end up in that line up.

  • agen’st da oddz

    Mind stimulatin dats wat these fellaz r about aint no fake gangsta shit
    Take ‘em back to the ROOTS!!

  • MosBang

    Quote me “The Roots are dead, they’re going to flop, and everyone will see how Jay-z is not an exec!!”

  • ReDiCuLouS

    Quote me “The Roots have yet to see the true limelight, and they will shine like the 24 karrots in Jay-Zs Jacob…a true example of a real hustler on a corporate level, ya dig?”

  • ?uest

    would love to hear a Nas/ Roots collabo

  • Karim aka Killa Cam

    Dipset are the movement in this rap game like it or not I tell you everyone go cop Killa season the album I can get enough of that shit 40 Cal and Killa Cam are the greatest in the Bird Gang Dipset… its not about Santana or Jim Jones, they better take a Ticket, Cause 40 and Hell Rell are both lyrical and they got talent. All of you haters out there you gotta love it Dipset……….. Pushin 40 you haters you not the one its Killa Season Holla at the haters cause they aint gone……. Ha Ha and when I grow up and get my label ima make sure ima be a Diplomatic member of Dipset…. Im the future of the rap and Hip Hop Game I write songs, and im a lyrical Talent no one of you can rap but I can so you haters better take a ticket…. and remember Its Dipset Bitch..

  • http://none stone

    wake up black thought is one of the most over looked emcee’s in the game he can single handled take any of your fav radio rapper’s because they not emcees hollo

  • B-boy

    Man these dudes are fire especially
    ?uestlove on those drums

  • mathew

    eff dipset…no one fels them. they only big in harlem.period.

  • JSUN





  • da student

    i love the roots. Malik B is what Cube meant to NWA

  • Karim aka Killa Cam

    Carolina Brown Suck a dick no homo…..

    Killa Cam

    Its about DIPSET- the movement in this game, so fuck all of you wannabes

  • che

    yeah a Nas/Roots collabo would be sick

  • wax

    one joint with Nas is enough to make me buy the album, the energy would be craaazy.

  • Blaq Thought

    The Roots be banging like the Crips and Bloods. R.I.P. Jaydee. I think if the Roots did blow up they would probably start making bad music together. It’s that struggle for noteriety that make them work so hard to make good music. Just imagine if they blew up of Jay Z’s live album for Blueprint. They’d be doing wack ass songs with Linkin Park and shit. Not that LP is wack but they try too hard to be hip hop when their not. Just keep touring for money and playing the ole funk shit and I’ll keep buying it, okay – player?

  • ReDiCuLouS

    Yo the Roots need ta take all these “thugs” back to school. I’d bump Phrenology way before I laid eye contact on a Dipshit record. Cam is garbage, hes very unreliable..very…very wack as a muthafucka!!! NaS needs to hook up with Thought & Common for that real street shit. Oh yeah, throw in Mos Def for good measure….aight peace!!!

  • hungryseason

    Do You Want More, Illadelph Halflife, and Things Fall Apart. Especially Illadlph Halflife were the best albums the Roots did. The first shit (allblack album cover), Phrenology, and their last album, the dope tracks were too spread out. They need to hit niggas with that kill the next album, fuck that filler shit. Some of the ecelctic/water tracks are just wack. Cant even play that shit in my radio b/c it sounds crazy. They need to stck to that boom bap and sometime jazzy shit. Illadelph(1) and Things Fall Apart(2) was that shit. Also, they need to start puttin my girl with the poems back at the end of their albums. That is their good luck charm.

  • donwill

    i dont know what ill do without liner notes…

    *shivers at the thought of withdrawl*

  • d.GUTTA

    ?uestlove, remember i met u at the summit in chicago? I gave u the mixtape with the ninja turtle cover.
    we got a single on our hands here…LISTEN

  • neu.sense

    A.O. ?uestlove can i please/please/please get a roots and little brother/joe scutta/9th wonder calabo i heard you say you like their music and they deserve some type of love since they never seem to get the right hype around them,but to anyone who do’nt know go pick up the”listening” “chittlin circut 1.5″”sleepers”"the minstrel show”albums o yeah big ups to hot rod the A-zilla Gorilla.holla!!