A friend of mine in university always used to tell me that, whenever I gave hip hop a try, I should start with The Roots. He thought they would be more appealing to me. That was many years ago and, since then the Roots became a household name thanks to Jimmy Fallon. So they’ve gone from a critical darling/cult act to arguably the biggest hip hop “band” in the United States, at least in terms of exposure to people who don’t listen to hip hop.
To start off I can say that I absolutely find the idea of a hip hop band more appealing than a DJ and/or producer(s). I like organic instruments more than electronic/digital instruments just because of the type of music I grew up on, and one of the things I don’t like about hip hop is the emphasis on lyrics over music – for me most hip hop music which I’ve heard isn’t particularly musically interesting, even when the lyrics connect with me (which isn’t very often). So the idea of The Roots as my friend described them appealed. But once they joined The Tonight Show the mystery disappeared. Though they are a band, they are still very much a hip hop group.
That is to say that, like all hip hop, I can’t say I love this. I would rather listen to jazzier hip hop like this than I would G-Funk or something like that, but I still have my inherent lack of interest in the genre. I.e. just because there’s a live band and lots of fender rhodes and less looping doesn’t make it less of a hip hop record.
I get why people like this, especially because I imagine that, back in 1995, there wasn’t a lot out there like this. But it turns out that a live band doesn’t fix my own personal issues with hip hop. I don’t mean any of this as a criticism, of course – it’s just my personal barrier. And, having listened to 20 or more hip hop albums now, I can really see why this band and this record in particular is appealing to people, but it doesn’t connect with me like my friend thought it would because, at bottom, it’s still hip hop, not jazz with a little bit of rap in it.