The Roots' Black Thought: 'Detroit is like a sister city'

Mary Chapman
Special to The Detroit News
Black Thought and other members of The Roots will perform Friday at Chene Park.

The Roots, one of the best known and most respected hip-hop acts in the business, is bringing its uniquely eclectic sound to the Chene Park amphitheater on Friday. Opening the concert will be Detroit-born rapper and songwriter Royce da 5'9."

 "We're coming to rock out," said Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, better known as Black Thought, and The Root's lead MC. "We're going to show up and show out."

Making up for a previously scheduled July 27 show, The Roots' performance will be an anthology of all its greatest hits, Trotter said. The Roots is the house band for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

"This is a tight, crisp band," said Detroit rapper and producer Tracy Dixon. "They're pros through and through, and they can do anything really. They're hip-hop, but they're also a little jazzy."

The Roots have won four Grammys, including best R&B album for "Wake Up!," best traditional R&B vocal performance for "Hang in There," and best group or duo R&B performance for "Shine."

In addition, an annual star-studded event known as "The Roots Picnic" has become a veritable institution. Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the greatest live bands around, The Roots is developing, in partnership with Amazon, an animated children's series and a live-action children's series.

Trotter, who co-founded the group along with drummer Questlove (Ahmir Thompson), is known for his live performance skills, rhyme schemes, complex lyricism and politically aware lyrics. He spoke with The Detroit News briefly from Washington.

The Philadelphia native who grew up on Philly soul, lived with Detroit family members briefly during his teenage years,

Returning to Detroit, Trotter said, is always a homecoming.

"I feel like a native," he said. "I am always going to be a Philadelphian, but Detroit is like a sister city, both in music and in my life experience."

Now residing near New York City, Trotter knows that Detroit continues to mourn, as well as celebrate, the late Aretha Franklin, with whom he'd spent time.

"I just feel like I was blessed to have been in her presence," said Trotter, who attended the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. "She left a very rich legacy, and is truly a national treasure."

In the early years, Trotter and Thompson performed on street corners.

While that took a lot of nerve, Trotter acknowedged, he doesn't recommend that approach for today's aspiring musicians.

"I think the industry has changed," he said. "The cyber world is where it happens now. You need to establish yourself online, on social media and streaming platforms."

Although the band no longer tours extensively due to its "Tonight Show" obligations, the group's highly polished, energetic live performances are consistently critically acclaimed. Several members are involved in side projects, including record production, acting and as guests on artists' albums and live shows.

The group's sound, while generally lumped into the hip-hop category, covers a multitude of genres, including alternative hip hop and neo soul.

"I recall one time in Barcelona. We were being randomly interrogated (by government authorities), and we told them we play everything," he said.  "That was hard for them to believe. Classical, gospel ... the answer was yes to all of that. And that's why people so reach out to The Roots. We can include a little bit of everything."

Mary Chapman is a Detroit freelance writer.

The Roots

8 p.m. Friday

Chene Park, 2600 Atwater, Detroit

Tickets start at $41


The Roots with opening act Royce da 5'9"