How We Got Our Name: The Roots

The Roots are a hip-hop group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Black Thought: There’s always been more than one vision behind the band.

Malik B: Sorta what makes it work.

Black Thought:
Was more obvious at first, though. People talk about the live band thing being unique, but there was other stuff happening too.

?uestlove: Why don’t you tell him what you mean?

Black Thought: [pauses] I was getting there.

Malik B.: Now you gotta remember, we formed back in 1989–

Black Thought: [laughs]

Malik B.: 1989.  At that time, Don Johnson was still the man. Miami Vice? Come on. I think we were still called ‘The Fifth Dynasty’ at that point.

Black Thought:
Meanwhile, I was on a real gardening kick. Growin’ my own vegetables–that organic shit–before it was cool, you know? All I wanted to rap about for a while, too.

Malik B.: You kept at it.

Black Thought: For real. As late as “Seed 2.0”–those verses were originally about plantin’ bulbs. But that’s the road to fame. Lined with compromises.

Malik B.: So we had played a bunch of shows. But we didn’t have…an image, you know?

?uestlove: What’s a band without an image?

Malik B.: Now I get this idea: get myself a fine mane like Don Johnson’s. [laughs] Philip Michael Thomas woulda been easier, but that’d be like askin’ for second place. Nobody wanted to be Philip Michael Thomas. I bleach my hair, get it all straightened-out–

Black Thought: [laughs] I remember this.

Malik B.: And for an hour, two hours, I’m lookin’ good. By the time we took the stage later that night, it’s fallin’ out in clumps.

Black Thought: Same day: I’m scramblin’ to get my stuff ready for the weekend farmers’ market. Philly had a real nice farmers’ market circuit, even then. But I’m lookin’ at the clock too–‘If I’m late to one more show ’cause of my gardening, they might kick me out of the band!’ Long story short, I rush over to the venue, taking inventory as I go, still got pruning shears in my back pocket. Backstage, I’m panting, I see Malik–

Malik B.: I got two hands full of long blond hair. I coulda cried.

Black Thought: And all I could think to say was, ‘You want to try these parsnips?’

Malik B.: My first instinct was to laugh. But then I looked around at everybody. Black Thought too. We were all like…

?uestlove: ‘…What’s the common denominator here?’

Malik B.: [frowns] Why you have to step on my story like that?

?uestlove: Why do I have to step on your story like that?

Malik B.: [pauses]

Black Thought: He only speaks in the form of question these days.

Malik B.: Sort of an…affectation. [sighs] We didn’t have to deal with that before Fallon.

?uestlove: Why don’t you let him form his own opinion about it?

Malik B.: Anyway: ‘roots.’ Everything sorta coalesced from there.

?uestlove: Are we finished here?

Malik B.: You can’t keep that up forever, man. Can’t keep it up forever.

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