The Roots are an influential Philadelphia-based hip hop group, known for innovative lyrics and live instrumentation. Originally composed of Black Thought (MC vocals) and ?uestlove (drums). The Roots soon added Malik B. (MC vocals), Kamal (keyboard), Hub (bass guitar) and Rahzel (beatboxing) and earned themselves a respectable fanbase in Philadelphia.
Their debut album, Organix, was released on Remedy Records. With significant hype, The Roots soon signed to DGC and released their major label debut, Do You Want More?!!!??! in 1995 (see 1995 in music).
Do You Want More?!!!??! included no samples and was recorded live; sales were slim among mainstream audiences, though it was very popular among devoted hip hop fans and some alternative rock audiences. Preceded by the moderate hit "Clones", 1996's Illadelph Halflife (1996, 1996 in music) included some samples but still did not sell well.
In 1999 (see 1999 in music) The Roots' Things Fall Apart (named after Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe) was a breakthrough commercial and critical success which made it on many best-of lists for the year. Though The Roots were no superstars, they vastly expanded their fanbase, leading to high hopes for their follow-up, the long-awaited Phrenology, released in 2002 (see 2002 in music), which was similarly acclaimed, though sold somewhat less than Things Fall Apart.
Phrenology contained the singles and music videos, "Break U Off" (featuring Musiq Soulchild) and "The Seed 2.0" (featuring Cody Chestnut). Similarly to fellow alternative rappers Outkast's more recent singles, both Phrenology singles display a more commercially-friendly side of the Roots while still being far from mainstream hip-hop in their sound. If anything, "Break U Off" has a neo soul feel, thanks to Musiq, which enabled it to do well on VH1 Soul, MTV Jams, and urban radio, as well as MTV2. "The Seed 2.0" performed even more strongly on VH1 Soul and MTV2, due to its almost alternative rock sound. The song even received some exposure on alternative radio stations in America, including MusicChoice's "alternative" station. It was the video for "The Seed 2.0" that finally earned the Roots a nomination for the MTV2 Award, signaling their more widespread breakthrough, at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, even after almost a decade of more underground, less commercial music videos.
The Roots released their thirteenth album Undun via Def Jam Records on December 6, 2011. The first single "Make My" leaked on October 17, 2011. Undun is telling a story about their semi-fictional character, Redford Stephens. The album gravitates around Redford growing up in an urban landscape struggling with survival. He is forced to juxtapose between the choice of making something of himself or living a life of fast money and crime, and he chooses the life of crime. The album's name is inspired by The Guess Who's song "undun", and the character was named after the Sufjan Stevens song "Redford". The album features artists like Aaron Livingston, Big K. R.I. T., Phonte, Dice Raw, Greg Porn, Truck North, Bilal, and Sufjan Stevens. The band went back to their original "roots", by returning to lyrics revolving around struggle and making something out of nothing.
In a July 2012 tweet, Questlove said that the title of The Roots' next album will have the initials &TYSYC and that it is being recorded currently, with a different sound to expect than from Undun. In the November 12, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, Questlove revealed that the album is tentatively named & Then You Shoot Your Cousin... In January of 2013, Questlove revealed that the band is currently making an album with Elvis Costello that is set to be released in late 2013 or early 2014.