I haven’t actually watched the Jimmy Fallon late night show. My reason for not watching it is that I don’t think Fallon is funny at all. The reason I might be tempted to watch is that the band for his show is The Roots. I’ve been a fan of The Roots since high school due to the fact that they epitomized what hip hop is supposed to be about. Instead of rapping about how much money they had or how ‘hard’ they were, The Roots rapped about actual life in black America. Rather than being pointlessly braggadocios, The Roots were genuinely informative and impassioned. Why try to convince people you’re a bad ass when all you really have to do is tell people about real shit and how you experience it every day to prove that your tough simply because you are constantly fighting injustice?
I could go on and on, but the point is that The Roots were real. They rapped about real issues, real problems, and real feelings. So the fact that they are now the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late night talk show has me flummoxed. How can the people who created the cd Things Fall Apart be the same guys laughing it up with some two-bit comic?
To me it’s unfathomable and pretty much sounds the death knell for meaningful hip hop. I don’t know what their next cd will be about or if it will be dark and angry, but I do know that it’ll be harder to convince me that the sentiments expressed on the album are genuine since they spend Monday through Friday dicking around with Fallon.
The real trouble is that once you suggest that The Roots have gotten away from substantive hip hop, who do you have left? The Roots are a talk show house band, Nas has been missing in action for years now, Jill Scott is doing a bad African accent on HBO’s version of The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency (set in Botswana), and Kanye West is singing love songs to sorority girls. Basically that just leaves Talib Kweli, but at the rate things are going I would only be mildly surprised if he renounced Islam, became a born again Christian and went to work for Young Life so that he could spread the Gospel to affluent white suburban kids.
Anyway, I’m not trying to get all preachy or even trying to make a larger point. All I can do is openly wonder what The Roots being Jimmy Fallon’s back up band means. So I leave these open questions for you to comment on:
Do this mean The Roots have sold out? Can any band maintain their substantive message about subversive populist ideas once they become successful? Who are the other quality hip hop artists out there? What ever happened to Nas? Has the wild success of rap doomed the existence of hip hop?