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The Roots at The Fillmore

Despite acceptance in today's popular media, The Roots have taken the path less traveled. Do You Want More?!?, Illadelph Halflife, and Things Fall Apart gained positive head nods from hip-hop enthusiasts and music critics alike, but surprisingly multi-platinum success hasn't been within their grasp. Their music is a refreshing departure from rap formulaic conventions that include bombastic lyrical ditties, tired samples, and overused drum loops. The Roots offer a new breed of hip-hop: rhymes deep with meaning layered over beats stamped in musicianship.

Pushing their creativity forward, however, puts them at odds with radio listeners looking for the latest boom bap. Unlike short-lived hip-hop acts that feed off hit to hit, The Roots don't mind a slow and steady rise to the top. The tremendous pressure, associated with Billboard success, is lifted off their back. They're free to experiment outside of genre constraints and let their talent shine.

This seed was planted in the group's beginnings. ?uestlove met lyricist Black Thought at Philadelphia's High School for Creative Performing Arts. Malik B., Hub, Rahzel, and Scratch filled in the musical gaps by adding rhymes, thick bass lines, and human beat boxing. Unlike most rap artists who only used microphones, turntables, drum machines, and samplers, The Roots opted for live instrumentation: guitars, drums, keyboards, and vocal beat boxing. After a decade as a group (light years in hip-hop), the Roots still hold their musical talent dear to their innovation and development.

Neophytes or even seasoned Roots listeners may have a hard time identifying with their latest work. Phrenology is heavy in experimentation. Punk (on "!!!!") and techno (on "Something to See") are departures from what The Roots are known for. Regardless, hip-hop listeners will have plenty of substance to chew on. Listen to ?uestlov's warm beats on "Sacrifice" (with Nelly Furtado), Sugar Hill Gang samplings on "Thought @ Work," and Ben Kenny's funk guitar loops on "The Seed (2.0)" (with Cody Chesnutt). Musiq's cameo appearance, on "Break You Off" is the closest R&B kin to their 1999 collaborative song "You Got Me" with Erykah Badu. Other guest appearances include Talib Kweli, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Dice Raw and Tracy Moor of the Jazzyfatnastees.

Whether one likes their latest album or not, the root of the band's experience is seeing them live and direct. Dive into their concert and the vibe is promised to be thick. No other hip-hop act matches their street credibility, lyricism and musicianship with live performance. Watch ?uestlove and Hub outline drum and bass licks while Kamal klangs on the keys. Turn your head and listen to Black Thought drop knowledge while rhyming over Ben Kenny's wah wah guitar. Their collaboration and performance is seamless. If this doesn't catch your eyes and ears, look past the front line and you'll be blown away by ?uestlove's lofty 'fro.