As The Roots Come Alive (MCA) documents, Philadelphia’s Roots are the best live hip-hop act in the world. Plenty of rappers are still content to rhyme over prerecorded backing tracks, pacing the stage like a caged lion to transmit intensity, but drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, bassist Leonard Hubbard (aka Hub), and keyboardist Scott Storch (aka Kamal) can match just about any studio concoction beat for beat and still roll with the punches the way no DAT machine can. For this tour, named after the group’s Web site, the Roots have outdone themselves, putting together a whole variety show in which they’ll serve as the house band for a slew of top-notch MCs and soul singers. Among the highlights of the bill are Dead Prez, the New York duo of Stic.Man and M-1, whose politically charged Lets Get Free (Loud) bridges the gap between the booty-bouncin’ beats of the Dirty South and the spooky cinematic sweep of the Wu-Tang Clan. Their informed skepticism is a refreshing change of pace from the lethargic blame game of gangsta rap. But their conspiracy theories occasionally reach ridiculous extremes–in “They Schools,” they write off the entire American education system as worthless to blacks–and they’re annoyingly proud of their enlightened views on food and sex: “How ’bout we start with a salad? / A fresh bed of lettuce with croutons / Later we can play a game of chess on the futon,” they rap on “Mind Sex.” More persuasive in matters of the heart is Jill Scott, a spoken-word artist turned soul singer whose recent debut, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 (Hidden Beach), couches her bedroom-centric poetry in slinky, sensual grooves. Her obsession with language is evident in her careful phrasing–though she has a lovely, full-bodied voice, she eschews ecstatic diva moves in favor of a rhythmically sophisticated delivery meaningfully shaded by subtle curlicues and dips. Also on the roster are snazzy soul sisters Jazzyfatnastees, rapping Roots protege Dice Raw, Detroit’s Slum Village, Philly wordsmith Bahamadia, and Black Star’s Talib Kweli, who’s about to release Reflection Eternal (Rawkus), a fine collaboration with DJ Hi-Tek. Monday and Wednesday, October 23 and 25, 9 PM, and Tuesday, October 24, 6:15 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Anthony Cutajar/Steven Lam.