Our top 10 The Roots songs list looks at the catalog of a Grammy Award-winning American hip-hop band best known for its interminable musical creativity in the rap scene. Formed in 1987, The Roots established its musical career on a path earlier cut by Stetsasonic, one of the pioneering hip-hop bands of the early ‘80s. Before becoming a house band for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Roots had already established itself as a prolific and progressive hip-hop band in the contemporary music scene.
Despite its reputation as a hip-hop band, The Roots heavily features a jazzy/progressive soul sound. The band’s sound has been majorly influenced by its large assortment of musical instruments including the saxophone, flute, sousaphone, trumpet, keyboard, guitar, drums, and bass guitar. For over three decades, The Roots has played a pivotal role in elevating the hip-hop genre influencing quite a number of R&B and hip-hop artists.
The Roots’ Career Beginnings and Breakthrough
The Roots was formed in 1987 by drummer Questlove and rapper Black Thought. During the band’s commencement period, Black Thought and Questlove were students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. The duo would soon after team up with rapper Malik B., with whom they started playing music in the streets and local clubs.
Owing to the band’s rising fame in Philadelphia and New York, The Roots was invited for a hip-hop concert in Europe. The band went on to self-release its debut studio album, Organix, in 1993 while still in Europe. Organix was a success, with the album rising to number ninety-three on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart despite being sold independently. The Roots saw its fanbase grow, thanks to the impressive record which was supported by multiple tours, especially in Europe. As a result, The Roots gained the attention of major record labels, signing a recording deal with DGC Records.
Other notable artists who have issued music through DGC Records include Nirvana, Enter Shikari, Rob Zombie, Papa Roach, and Rise Against. In 1994, the band released its first EP, From the Ground Up. Songs on this six-track EP were later featured on the band’s 1995 sophomore studio album, Do You Want More?!!!??!
The band’s sophomore album marked the its first commercially successful release, following a Gold certification by RIAA. Do You Want More?!!!??! is home to some of the best songs by The Roots including “Proceed,” “Silent Treatment,” and “Distortion to Static.” The album was The Roots’ first release to make it to the Billboard 200, peaking at number one hundred and four.
The Roots’ Album Releases over the Years
In 1996, The Roots returned with its third studio album, Illadelph Halflife. Illadelph Halflife was cited as one of the best hip-hop releases of the year, peaking at number four on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album also made it to number twenty-one on the Billboard 200. Despite its amazing performance on the charts, Illadelph Halflife failed to match the commercial success the band had seen with its sophomore release.
Nevertheless, the album is home to some of the most popular songs by The Roots including “What They Do,” “Clones,” and “Concerto of the Desperado.” Illadelph Halflife saw The Roots collaborate with musicians including D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Common, Raphael Saadiq, Dice Raw, and Bahamadia. The Roots also teamed up with several jazz artists including Cassandra Wilson and Joshua Redman.
Things Fall Apart, issued in 1999, marked The Roots’ fourth studio album. The album was the band’s first album issued through MCA Records. Things Fall Apart had its title inspired by the late Chinua Achebe’s book of the same name. The album has been cited to be among the core pillars of alternative rap music. “You Got Me,” “Adrenaline!” and “The Next Movement” are some of the best The Roots songs from the album. The album peaked at number four on the Billboard 200.
Things Fall Apart was a commercial success in 1999, receiving a Gold certification in the US. The album would later receive Platinum certification some years later after its sales surpassed the one million copies mark. Things Fall Apart was nominated for the Best Rap Album accolade at the 2000 Grammy Awards event. However, the album lost to The Slim Shady LP by Eminem. Other albums that had been nominated for the award include I Am… I Am… by Nas, Da Real World by Missy Elliott, and Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front by Busta Rhymes.
In 2002, The Roots released its fifth studio album, Phrenology. Phrenology saw The Roots take on its usual hip-hop sound blended with progressive rock and neo-soul sonic influences. The Roots released collaborative hits with artists including Nelly Furtado, Talib Kweli, Cody Chesnut, Musiq Soulchild, and Jill Scott. “Break You Off,” “The Seed (2.0),” “Sacrifice,” and “Rolling with Heat” are the biggest hits by The Roots from Phrenology. The album was a commercial success, receiving a Gold certification in the US. Phrenology charted at number twenty-eight on the Billboard 200.
The album was nominated for the Best Rap Album accolade at the 2004 Grammy Awards ceremony. However, it lost the award to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by OutKast. Other albums that were nominated for the same award that year included Get Rich or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent, Under Construction by Missy Elliot, The Blueprints 2: The Gift & The Curse by Jay-Z.
The Tipping Point, issued in 2004, marked the band’s sixth studio album. Like Phrenology, The Tipping Point featured hip-hop and neo-soul sound influences. The album went on to peak at number four on the Billboard 200. Despite matching Things Fall Apart’s performance on the charts, The Tipping Point failed to sell as many albums, not even receiving a Gold certification. Nevertheless, the album featured musical gems including “Don’t Say Nuthin,” “Stay Cool,” and “I Don’t Care.”
The Roots returned in 2006 with its seventh studio album, Game Theory. Game Theory was the band’s first album issued through Def Jam Recordings following its departure from Geffen Records. The album finds The Roots exploring experimental and alternative hip-hop music. “Don’t Feel Right,” “In the Music,” and “Here I Come” are some of the best The Roots songs by The Roots from the album. Game Theory peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200. The album was nominated for a Grammy Awards in the Best Rap Album category in 2007, losing the award to Release Therapy by Ludacris.
Rising Down, issued in 2008, marked the band’s eighth studio album and second issue through Def Jam Recordings. With this album, The Roots explored matters affecting present-day society including poverty, drugs, violence, and corruption amongst other themes. “Birthday Girl” and “Rising Up” are the best songs by The Roots from the album. Rising Up topped the Billboard Top Rap Albums chart, peaking at the sixth position on the Billboard 200.
In 2010, The Roots released its ninth studio album entitled, How I Got Over. How I Got Over featured several musical gems including “Dear God 2.0,” “How I Got Over,” and “The Fire.” Despite the album not being a commercial success, it peaked at number six on the Billboard 200. The album received a nomination for the Best Rap Album in the 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony, losing the accolade to Recovery by Eminem.
Undun, issued in 2011, marked The Roots’ tenth studio album and fourth issue through Def Jam Recordings. The album finds the band exploring the alternative hip-hop sound. Undun was fairly received in the US, rising to the seventeenth spot on the Billboard 200. “Make My” and “Tip the Scale” are the best The Roots songs from the album. Undun was nominated for the Best Ra Album accolade in the 2013 Grammy Awards ceremony, losing the award to the six-time Platinum-certified LP, Take Care by Drake.
In 2014, The Roots issued its eleventh and most recent album, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. The album finds the band exploring themes of violence in the hip-hop scene and the contemporary society at large sardonically. …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin went on to peak at number eleven on the Billboard 200. “When People Cheer,” “Never,” and “Tomorrow” are some of the most popular songs by The Roots from the album.
The Roots’ Other Musical Pursuits
Throughout its career, the band has interacted with quite a handful of artists in collaborative releases. In 2010, The Roots went on to release a collaborative album with the R&B/pop/soul icon John Legend entitled Wake Up! The album featured musical gems including “Wake Up Everybody” and “Hard Times.” Wake Up! went on to peak at number eight on the Billboard 200. The album won the Best R&B Album accolade in the 2010 Grammy Awards ceremony ahead of albums by Monica, Jaheim, Fantasia, and Raheem DeVaughn.
In 2011, The Roots collaborated with the American soul and R&B singer Betty Wright on the album, Betty Wright: The Movie. This album also featured several other artists, in writing/production/singing, including Diddy, Lil Wayne, Keyshia Cole, Kelly Clarkson, and Joss Stone. “Surrender,” one of the musical gems from the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best R&B Performance in 2012, losing to “Fool for You” by CeeLo Green featuring Melanie Fiona.
The Roots would later collaborate with Elvis Costello on the funk/R&B album, Wise Up Ghost. Wise Up Ghost went on to peak at number sixteen on the Billboard 200. The album also managed to rise on the UK Albums Chart, peaking at number twenty-eight. The Roots were featured on Toots & the Maytals’ album True Love in 2004. Throughout its career, the band has toured with multiple other artists including The Black Eyed Peas, Talib Kweli, Nas, Jay-Z, and Common.
The Roots’ Accolades and Legacy
Rather than follow the path cut out by hip-hop artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, and The Fat Boys, The Roots sought to explore the hip-hop genre in a different and diverse way. The Roots took after Stetsasonic, one of the pioneering hip-hop bands, including live instrumentation in its recordings. Despite the culture of hip-hop bands almost becoming archaic, The Roots still retained its status as a rap band unshaken by the evolution of the genre.
Musical creativity, uniqueness, and persistence have seen the band bag several awards including three Grammy Awards. While the band has been described as a hip-hop outfit, The Roots maintains great musical versatility releasing music free of genre restrictions, especially in its last releases. Here we issue our ten best songs from The Roots.
# 10 – Don’t Feel Right ft. Maimouna Youssef
Ushering us to the top 10 songs by The Roots is the astounding hit “Don’t Feel Right.” The song features the American singer/rapper Maimouna Youssef. “Don’t Feel Right” was issued in 2006 on the band’s LP, Game Theory. The song was a success on the charts, peaking at number forty-eight on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
“Don’t Feel Right” also managed to rise to number two hundred on the UK Singles Chart. The song earned The Roots and Maimouna Youssef a Grammy Awards nomination for the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group category in 2007. However, they lost the award to “Ridin’” by Chamillionaire & Krayzie Bone. “Don’t Feel Right” sampled the hits “Jungle Boogie” by Kool & the Gang and “Ecstasy” by Ohio Players.
# 9 – How I Got Over ft. Dice Raw
“How I Got Over” is the album title track to the band’s ninth studio album. Like most of the songs on How I Got Over, this high-spirited hit finds the band exploring some mind-boggling themes. The song alludes to getting over tough situations and deciding to move on to some new life. Questlove revealed that the song speaks of the state of the world, the hip-hop genre, and the world at large.
It’s the perfectly-delivered melancholy and neo-soul influence that add glamour to the song’s overall feel. “How I Got Over” features the guest vocals of Dice Raw who at one time was a member of the band. The song sampled the drums in the hit “Switchblade Theme” by Ralph Carmichael.
# 8 – Silent Treatment
Number eight on our top 10 songs by The Roots is the classic rap hit “Silent Treatment.” The song is yet another magical hit from the band’s Gold-certified LP, Do You Want More?!!!?! While “Silent Treatment” is a rap classic, the song features some jazzy feel that makes it a little soft yet charming.
Some of the lyrics to this hit reference the hits “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye and “Straight Out The Sewer” by Das EFX. “Silent Treatment” peaked at number one hundred and five on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart. The song also climbed to number thirty-one on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart. “Silent Treatment” was sampled in the 2001 song “Caramel” by the hip-hop trio City High.
#7- Don’t Say Nuthin
The Tipping Point is home to some of the best songs by The Roots including our seventh pick on the list “Don’t Say Nuthin.” “Don’t Say Nuthin” features an inspirational instrumental and alluring vocals by Black Thought. The song was a success on the charts, peaking at number sixty-six on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
“Don’t Say Nuthin” also made it to UK Singles Chart, peaking at number ninety-two. The song sampled the hits “Funky for You” by Nice & Smooth, “I Gotcha” by Joe Tex, and “U Da Man” by Black Moon. “Don’t Say Nuthin” has been sampled by the 2004 hit “Romeo” by Jazzy B, “Short Money” by Skyzoo, and “2004” by The Hood Internet.
# 6 – Proceed
Coming in at number six on our top 10 songs by The Roots is the breathtaking rap hit “Proceed.” The song is among the earliest successful releases by The Roots, featuring on the band’s Gold-certified sophomore studio album, Do You Want More?!!!??! “Proceed” is among the songs by The Roots that feature the rap vocals of Malik B. The song also features beatboxer Rahzel who has since worked with other artists including Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, The Skatalites, and Willie Nelson.
“Proceed” was a success on the charts, peaking at number thirteen on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart. The song also rose to number seventy-nine on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, missing the Billboard Hot 100 by twenty-three spots. “Proceed” sampled lyrics of the hit “Biz is Goin’ Off” by the American rapper Biz Markie.
#5- Break You Off ft. Musiq Soulchild
“Break You Off” is a collaborative hit between The Roots and the R&B/neo-soul artist Musiq Soulchild. The song alludes to a situation where Black Thought questions his relationship with a girl who is already dating someone else. “Break You off” is one of the most successful songs from the band’s Grammy Award-nominated album, Phrenology.
The song was The Roots’ third hit to make it to the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number ninety-nine. “Break You Off” also rose to number fifty-nine on the UK Singles Chart. The song sampled the 1993 hit “Shape of My Heart” by the English singer-songwriter Sting. Other songs that have sampled “Shape of My Heart” by Sting include “Lucid Dreams” by Juice Wrld, “The Message” by Nas, and “Pieces” by Tory Lanez featuring 50 Cent.
#4- The Next Movement ft. DJ Jazzy Jeff and Jazzyfatnastees
Things Fall Apart is home to our fifth pick on the ten best songs by The Roots, “The Next Movement.” The song finds The Roots collaborating with DJ Jazzy Jeff (featured on scratching) and the vocal duo Jazzyfatnastees (featured on the background vocals). This alternative hip-hop hit achieved mild success on the charts, peaking at number one hundred and three on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
“The Next Movement” contains samples of other hits including “Public Enemy No.1” by Public Enemy, “Jimbrowski” by Jungle Brothers, “Funky Drummer” by James Brown, and “Buffalo Girls” by Malcolm McLaren. On the other hand, “The Next Movement” was sampled in “Like Bobby” by Bobby Brown and “L’ is Gone” by Musiq Soulchild.
#3- What They Do ft. Raphael Saadiq
The third pick on our top 10 songs by The Roots is the grandiose hit “What They Do.” “What They Do” finds The Roots collaborating with R&B/soul musician Raphael Saadiq. The song was released through the album, Illadelph Halflife. “What They Do” alludes to how the rap industry changed into a different scheme where rappers get into the music for the money and not the art.
The music video of “What They Do” caused a rift between The Roots and The Notorious B.I.G., who felt that the band was taking a dig at his art. “What They Do” was the first song by the band to make it to the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number thirty-four. The song also made it to number forty-nine on the UK Singles Chart. “What They Do” has been sampled by several hits including “Memories” by Maverick Sabre and “They Say” by Common featuring John Legend and Kanye West.
#2- The Seed (2.0) ft. Cody Chesnutt
“The Seed (2.0)” is one of the fan-favorite hits by The Roots from the band’s album, Phrenology. Unlike most of the songs on this list which are primarily hip-hop, “The Seed (2.0)” combines a lot of genres bringing out The Roots’ genre diversity to light. With this hit, The Roots were able to feature their usual hip-hop sound blended with Avant rap, roots rock, and psychedelic soul sonic influences.
“The Seed (2.0)” finds The Roots collaborating with the R&B/neo-soul artist Cody Chesnutt. However, The Roots’ version is a rework of the original version by Cody Chesnutt. The Roots’ version was more alluring compared to the original version, becoming a hit in early 2003. While it failed to make it to the Billboard Hot 100, the song peaked at number thirty-three on the UK Singles Chart. The song was nominated for the MTV2 Award in 2003, losing to “Girl’s Not Grey” by the American rock band AFI.
#1- You Got Me ft. Erykah Badu and Eve
Number one of our top 10 songs by The Roots is the enthralling hit “You Got Me.” The song is The Roots’ signature song, featured on the band’s 1999 Platinum-certified album, Things Fall Apart. “You Got Me” finds The Roots collaborating with Erykah Badu and Eve. However, the two would come as a replacement for Jill Scott who co-wrote and recorded vocals for the song.
The move to replace Jill Scott with Erykah Badu was facilitated by Geffen Records who felt that Erykah Badu had a better shot at pushing “You Got Me” to success, thanks to her then-success. The gamble paid off, with the song peaking at number thirty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100, and number thirty-one on the UK Singles Chart.
“You Got Me” went on to win the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group accolade in the 2000 Grammy Awards ceremony. Other songs that had been nominated for the award include “Guilty Conscience” by Eminem featuring Dr. Dre, “What’s It Gonna Be” by Busta Rhymes featuring Janet Jackson, “Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg.
Top 10 Songs By The Rootsarticle published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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