Five contemporary artists – Paul Chin, Shad, Haviah Mighty, Cadence Weapon, and Genesis Owusu – explain why The Roots’ ‘Do You Want More?!!!??!’ is one of the most influential albums ever.
Stream: ‘Do You Want More?!!!??!’ – The Roots
The Roots represented a realm of possibility for what hip-hop could become to me when I first discovered them as a kid.
– Cadence Weapon
To listen to The Roots’ legendary major label debut Do You Want More?!!!??! today is a special experience. In 1995, it was revelatory. When band front person Black Thought’s voice opens the album with “You are all/About to witness/Some organic hip-hop jazz/One hundred percent groove/And you don’t stop,” it’s immediately clear he’s giving equal parts introduction and instruction: His magnetic voice makes you drop whatever you’re doing, because you know you’re being introduced to your favorite new hip-hop group.
The seamless blend of jazz and hip-hop, the silky smooth flows and the biting social commentary not only cemented a burgeoning genre, but instantly became the bar others would spend decades trying to hit.
And yet, somehow, The Roots remain painfully underrated: Questlove should be championed as the drummer every live band needs, Black Thought should be in every discussion for greatest MC. They are pioneers, visionaries, and some of the best artists hip-hop has ever produced.
This week a vinyl reissue—complete with extra tracks, outtakes and a Black Thought curated book—of Do You Want More?!!!??! hits the shelves, offering an inside glimpse of the magic The Roots were able to unlock. To celebrate, Atwood has gathered five contemporary artists to talk about The Roots, this legendary introductory album, and a cultural impact that spans generations, continents, and genres.
DJ and producer. Latest album Full Spectrum Deluxe came out April 19, 2021.
There’s a part of me that would love to believe that the reason a Philly-based jam band of buskers and session musicians, a couple explosive emcees, and a beatboxer were able to land a major label record deal is because they’re the absolute best band in the world (which I 100% believe them to be), but years of contending with the music industry has disabused me of the notion that overwhelming and undeniable talent are the primary motivator for industry gatekeepers and king-makers. That said, the thing I think makes The Roots special lies in their very DNA.
Do You Want More?!!!??!‘s release on DGC/Geffen (at the time, a grunge label) came on the heels of a season where the group had relocated to London to expand their base after feeling constrained by their hometown of Philadelphia, added more members to their permanent lineup, and toured Europe extensively. While these may seem like mere details to most, this version of a band’s history is just one of thousands paralleled by house bands and touring ensembles throughout the ages.
Local acts the world over can all relate to the angst of a ceiling for success imposed by ones own hometown, or going 5-6 years before finding a bassist that’s a good fit to join the group full-time, or maybe even developing a following in a part of the world you don’t know anyone. But it takes something really special to convert all those rites of passage for gigging musicians into a life-changing opportunity, let alone one wherein the act can do so by continuing to be wholly themselves.
27 years removed from The Roots’ major label debut (and nine albums, a dozen personnel changes, countless tour dates, a full-time job on network television, and one tragic death later), I think it’s telling that we’ve seen so few attempts to replicate their formula from an industry that typically thrives on following blueprints. Certainly none that have had anything nearing their longevity. And yet, The Roots—as both the sum AND its parts—continue to humbly succeed by doing the thing house bands everywhere are forged in: being the absolute best for all time, no matter the trends. No one may ever decipher the secret behind their early success on the business side, but I hope the thing artists, labels, and fans alike will attempt to apply to our own practices, as we reflect on this certified classic, is that highest ethic of knowing the value of and advocating for one’s own voice.
Host of HBO’s Hip-Hop Evolution, Juno-winning artist, new album Tao coming October 1st.
Do You Want More is a big album for me, a major influence. First off, Black Thought says my name on “Mellow My Man” (Shadrach) so there’s that. But really it was the overall joyous, breezy freestyle energy and how it belied the total mastery and precision of the lyrics, delivery, musicianship. That was what got me. I encountered that album at an age where I was just starting to discover how much depth there could be in music. I loved everything on the radio and in videos back then as a kid, all the pop stuff we were exposed to in ordinary Canada where I grew up. But The Roots were one of my first glimpses into how rich music can be, how much there really is to explore. One of my first experiences of rewinding and studying lyrics. Breaking down the delivery and the chemistry between band members. That was all totally formative for me. The Roots and the collective around them at that time also imprinted on me forever this idea that most popular did not necessarily mean best. That there was a whole other scale that had to do with craft, boldness, integrity, commitment. And that pursuing those things was important and exciting. That absolutely sent my whole life on a certain trajectory.
Also I’ve seen them play live a few times and I’ve still never seen a live band in rap even come close. The blueprint yet somehow still also the high-water mark as far as that goes. On top of boasting one of the biggest and greatest catalogues in hip-hop. The legendary Roots crew.
2019 Polaris Prize winner for her debut album 13th Floor.
The Roots’ music, for me, was some of my earliest exposure to genres of music I felt very connected to, played by a live band. The organic/acoustic feel lured me in. Their blend of vocals, raps & overall smooth production influences my style today, as I find myself trying to blend these same contrasting artistic forms in my own music.
Former poet laureate of Edmonton, Polaris long-listed album Parallel World released April 30, 2021.
The Roots represented a realm of possibility for what hip-hop could become to me when I first discovered them as a kid. I loved how they melded the raw spirit of hip-hop with the exploratory innovation of jazz. Black Thought remains the rapper’s rapper, the platonic ideal of what a rapper should sound like. Questlove was a big inspiration to me just by being himself. He was a black guy who was an obsessive music nerd before there was a pop culture archetype for that persona. “Clones” was a big tune to me growing up. I worked at a record store when Phrenology first came out and rinsed that album a lot back then. Their lack of regard for adhering to convention was exciting to me. I also think that Game Theory is one of the best rap albums of the last twenty years.
Debut album Smiling With No Teeth released 5 March 2021.
I so clearly remember being in my early high school music class with my friends (and class band at the time), so eager to lay down the craziest, jazziest freestyle jam after listening to The Roots “Essaywhuman?!!!??!” on repeat like 50 times the night before. Obviously, we 15-year-olds didn’t end up laying down anything as crazy as that, but hey, The Roots gave us something to aspire to. They are THE hip-hop band, indisputably. Do You Want More?!!!??! and their first album Organix were some of the first albums I heard on my hip-hop journey, and they’ve stuck with me to this day. Also, Black Thought doesn’t get enough credit as a top 10 all time rapper.
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? © Dominic Digiorgio
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