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Homegrown’ a successful mix of musical genres

Observer Scene | Thursday, January 19, 2006

“Homegrown! The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Roots, Vol. 1,” is the first half of a two-disc best-of anthology of the Roots music. “Homegrown!” illustrates how the Roots fulfill their titular promise twice over – not only are they underground hip-hop, but the Roots’ roots also extend deep down into the subterranean layers of various musical styles.

Hailing from their native Philadelphia (or “Illadelph,” as they refer to it in Philly slang vernacular) the group is comprised of MC Black Thought, keyboardist Kamal Gray, bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard and Amir “?uestlove” (pronounced “Questlove”) Thompson, who, despite his use of interrogative punctuation in his nickname, is certainly no question mark on the drums.

With strong organic influences from different genres, most noticeably jazz, rock and soul, the Roots are the consummate amalgamation of past and present in hip-hop, joining together musical scents from past and present to create a potent audio potpourri. This old-school/new-school dynamic is what lies at the essence of the appeal of the Roots – they are a group that is innovative but respects its elders, producing a sound that is at the same time both brand-new and time-honed, familiar yet fresh.

Typical commercial hip-hop glorifies the drug culture that permeates urban America and glamorizes violence and the objectification of women. The Roots dare to eschew the drugs, guns and hos motifs of their contemporary rap contemporaries in lieu of soulful tracks that carry a deeper meaning. Almost in spite of this, the Roots somehow manage to remain “street” without having to resort to misogynistic references and violent lyrics. In fact, on the track “Star,” the Roots lament the close entwinement of the youth hip-hop movement with drug culture and gang violence.

Other tracks to look out for include the song “Do You Want More?!!!??!” It is a prime example of the eclectic nature of the Roots’ music. The Roots represent with a chest-beating shout-out to their home city of Philadelphia on a track which pairs a fairly standard hip-hop beat with Scottish bagpipes blaring triumphantly in the background. This song is sure to be a hit amongst the Irish faithful on campus.

“You Got Me,” a duet originally featuring R&B queen Erykah Badu, won a Grammy in 2000. However, tuber aficionados will be quick to notice that the version on this album features a different female vocalist, Jill Scott. The track deals with issues of fidelity and loyalty, and has a deep melancholy vibe despite repeated insistences by Scott that, “baby, you got me.”

Mos Def puts in an appearance on “Double Trouble,” a who’s-the-man song (or is it who’s the men?) featuring great back-and-forth chemistry between Def and Black Thought, who may be perhaps the best rapper out there you’ve never heard of.

Unlike textbooks that may have been recently purchased at the bookstore (which enumerates the cost of a college education at an arm, a leg and a firstborn child), a copy of “Homegrown! A Beginner’s Guide to the Roots, Vol. 1” will only set a listener back $9.99 on iTunes Music Store. School’s in session, and “Homegrown!” is on the required listening list for Hip-Hop 101.