The Roots have always focused on the democratic, all-together-now hip-hop-band thing, eschewing the grandstanding of a singular MC and the jam-band ungodliness of soul-tinged hip-hop in favor of a snappy and productive Get-Along Gang. It's like a Zen wave that extends beyond the band as well: their best work—not to mention biggest bank slips—happens when the core members hook up with distinctive solo performers. So while the Roots still paddle around just outside the mainstream waters, everybody's little niece knows the nasty-nast words to their collaboration with Cody Chesnutt, "The Seed (2.0)."
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Hailing from Philadelphia, the group has revealed themselves slowly since their debut in the early '90s, moving with grace from underground stars and Top 40 hit-makers to being that super-chill backup band in Dave Chappelle's live show/concert flick, the most excellent Dave Chappelle's Block Party.
But a common criticism of the Roots is they're mired so deeply in their methodology that the exuberance of great hip-hop isn't even allowed to sneak through. The fact that drummer/in-house rhythm prodigy ?uestlove—as opposed to an MC—is the most visible member of the band speaks to this, as does the fact they fancy themselves as agents of intelligentsia, secreted away in the proverbial bowels of the dumb-shit music industry. They even name their albums after increasingly cerebral pursuits: books (Things Fall Apart, The Tipping Point), racially charged theoretical systems (Phrenology) and math-based strategy (the upcoming Game Theory).
Still, their live show is what it's all about, so treat your brain to a little tingle of Philly's finest.
The Roots at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com/anaheim. Fri., 9 p.m. $35-$40 (sold out). All ages.