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Interview:
The Roots Get Political On New Album
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Ahmir “?uestlove? Thompson, the drummer and producer of the Roots, calls the Philadelphia hip-hop group’s new album, “Rising Down,” “the most incendiary political album of our career to date.”

But he says that it isn’t necessarily because this is an election year.

“It wasn’t first and foremost on our minds,” says Thompson, 37, adding that the new songs were more inspired by the Roots’ hometown, which he notes “is pretty much the murder capital of the United States now.”

“That really weighs a lot on your mind as you’re creating music,” explains Thompson, who also produced Al Green’s upcoming album, “Lay It Down.” “Philly’s making ‘The Wire’ look like ‘Teletubbies’ — that’s how bad it’s gotten. The dropout rate is 45 percent in Philadelphia high schools. In neighboring Camden (N.J.), where crime is really up, unemployment is at a staggering 75 percent amongst blacks.

“So just living in that environment does affect you. Add in being in your mid-30s and working 300 nights a year and this being an election year — yeah, all that’s what this album’s about.”

The Roots are joined on “Rising Down” — which takes its title from William T. Vollmann’s 2004 book “Rising Up and Rising Down ...” — by a number of guests, including Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Saigon. But it’s another guest’s absence that’s created even more of a stir.

Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump joined the Roots for a track called “Birthday Girl,” which was supposed to be the album’s first single. But the lighthearted party track simply didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the album, though it’s available on viral outlets.

“It was just sticking out like a sore thumb,” Thompson says of “Birthday Girl.” “Initially it was going to kick-start the record ... but then that didn’t work. Then we were going to have a ‘halftime’ thing where it was gonna come in the middle of the record as a break from the political thing, but that didn’t work, either.

“Then we tried to make it the last song on the record, and that wasn’t working. Then we tried to make it the hidden track, and that wasn’t effective. Basically the album was complete; it starts with ‘Rising Down’ and it ends with ‘Rising Up,’ so that makes more sense to me.”



The Roots open for Erykah Badu at 8 p.m. Sunday (May 4) at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $75, $55 and $35. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com. The Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Black Thought will host a listening party for the groups new album, “Rising Down,” at 9 p.m. Sunday at the Confidential Lounge, 211 W. Congress St., Detroit. Tickets are $10. Call (313) 962-1260.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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