- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

The Philadelphia-based rap group the Roots has a line in the chorus of its song "Sacrifice" that goes, "You need a heart that's full with music; if you use it you can fly."
The line is an apt description of the group a full band fronted by lyricists Black Thought and Scratch and the Roots certainly soared to heights unexperienced by most bands during a diverse two-hour set Monday night at the 9:30 Club.
The Roots has the ability to evoke both the aggression of rap and an appreciation of art because the band members mix real street credibility and hip-hop with catchy melodies and incredible musical skill. They are a wonderful reminder that there are rappers who smile, have fun onstage and can do more than yell about their private parts.
The band started the show with a catchy, simple version of a song by 1990s rappers Eric B. and Rakim. It was the first of several cover songs, but the musicians spent most of their time onstage performing songs from their new album, "Phrenology," which came out last week. It's their sixth release since 1993.
"Break You Off" was played with a jungle-influenced beat and relentless play on the cymbals from drummer ?uestlove, but Ben Kenney's guitar broke in with a slow, mournful and smooth hook, like lazy cigar smoke drifting to the rafters, and Black Thought's rhymes flew in on top of it all, talking about forbidden love.
"Sacrifice" was preceded by a bass solo from Hub, whose riffs segued into a funk-laden version of the song about how "if you want something in life, you're not going to get it unless you give a little bit of sacrifice."
There is a refreshing lack of braggadocio to the Roots. They have no need to assert themselves relentlessly to the audience and to themselves. There is no attitude of "I'm bigger, badder and sexier than you." They don't need to say any of those things because their talent says it all for them.
They just play and entertain, switching from rock-infused rap to funk to a heavy-metal interlude to disco, and the whole point is to see if the crowd can keep up. Black Thought's delivery is so authentic and powerful, so convincing, that he needs only to say his name, and one is impressed.
Scratch's vocal imitation of a DJ's scratches are better and more fun than a real DJ, and the beats that came from his mouth shook the walls, the bass was so heavy. The presence of drummer ?uestlove is a glaring reminder of the deficiency in standard rap. Because of him, the Roots is not limited to a set rhythmic pattern but is guided by the drummer's spontaneous and creative playing.
The band also was uninhibited in playing around onstage, at one point striking poses reminiscent of 1990s rappers Public Enemy and other groups, which drew wild cheers of appreciation from the crowd.
Crowd participation was slightly hindered because the Roots played mostly new songs, but what the band missed in familiarity it made up in enthusiasm. More than halfway through its lengthy set, the band's songs and Black Thought's rhymes had picked up steam, and the Roots didn't slow down until the last notes died.

***1/2
WHAT:
The Roots
WHERE:
The 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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