Considering their status in the musical world, The Roots certainly can tell their adoring public they need a break. Taping ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ every night along with side projects such as ?uestlove‘s DJ gigs and Black Thought‘s forays into acting are easily justifiable reasons to retreat to their families and enjoy the fruits of their labor. But The Roots are a band unlike any other and that’s part of why we love them. As New York City welcomed Jack Frost and prepared for a pseud0-apocalypse, The Roots curated the 6th annual Okayplayer Holiday Jam at Brooklyn Bowl. The shows are a testament to the musicianship of the crew, as each year the jam session allows them to show off their creativity and adaptability with the range of guests that join them. This edition was no exception.
Before The Roots took the stage, they yielded the floor to some up and coming artists full of promise. The first band to warm up the crowd was Sonnymoon. The crowd was largely unfamiliar, but the duo won them over by the end of their set with their accessible intergalactic beats. New Okayplayer Records signee Jennah Bell also wowed the crowd with a energetic set. Her jazz infused, raspy take on ‘Big Poppa’ had the crowd mesmerized and singing along. Chicago based band The Kids These Days finished the opening sets with an energetic introduction to traphouse rock. With two horns, a blues-rock trio, and a rapper. The Kids These Days definitely have a unique sound. Their eclectic set even managed to squeeze in snippets of Radiohead and En Vogue. Each act definitely showed why The Roots crew wanted us to hear them and why we should keep our ears piqued to rock with them in the future.
After such great table setting, and a marriage proposal on the dance floor, The Roots finally jumped into their own festivities without any hesitation. They immediately brought out William Hart of The Delfonics who led the crowd in a series of soul classics. The entire audience sang along to ‘La La (Means I Love You) and got the place even more warmed up. Talib Kweli, rocking his bowling shoes straight from the lane, joined Black Thought to start the set. Ably trading bars back and forth, the two MCs took it back to a time when The Roots were making their ascent to the music world’s consciousness. To add to this historic coupling, Q-Tip joined the crew. Hip-hop history was in the building as the three emcees performed the classic ‘Electric Relaxation’ and had the crowd in heaven. Former Roots mainstay Rahzel then joined the stage and showcased why he is known as the Godfather of Noise. The ministrations of his mouth had the crowd taken aback, reaching its peak as he spit the beat for ‘Otis’ as Black Thought spit a freestyle.
The special guests continued to spill out. A$AP Rocky seemed to even surprise stage participants with his arrival, as he powered through a rendition of ‘Goldie‘ backed by The Roots. Next up was reggae legend Johnny Osbourne. The crowd mostly did not recognize him, but they certainly recognized the classic ‘Buddy Bye’ which had the crowd transported to the dancehall. Rayvon and Redd Foxx continued the dancehall party. The island rhythms were a perfect segway for the Angola based group Os Kuduristas. These five dancers turned on their energy for a frenetic 15 minute set that would put twerk teams to shame across the nation. The rhythmic beats held the audience’s attention as much as the dance moves, which happened to involve interaction with the lucky audience members up front. Somehow things settled enough to transition to Holiday Jam perennial Bilal. Over the years at this very party, he has covered Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. Joined on keys by frequent collaborator Robert Glasper, they worked magic as they performed the John Coltranestandard ‘A Love Supreme’. Bilal’s gifts as a singer were on full display here as he squeezed every bit of emotion out of his rendition.
It was a fitting close for the night. Looking back on the entire night, we were touched by a cornucopia of music from across the African diaspora and history. From the opening of William Hart to Bilal’s closing numbers, we were also reminded about the power of love. It was a fitting message in this season, especially considering the turmoil the nation has experienced in the recent past. Again, we thank The Roots, who continue to celebrate their ascent from a plucky band on a street corner to becoming the favorite band of a generation. It’s this love of music that brought us together and this love that keeps us going. Happy Holidays indeed.