Wednesday, March 4, 2009
...And What Exactly Will Black Thought Be Doing Now?: Thoughts On Jimmy Fallon, The Roots & Signs Of The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse
I think America, nay, the World owes the Roots a very public and sincere apology for what I can only imagine is one of the most painful and degrading experiences of their lives. Ahmir... Tariq... if we had simply attended more of your shows and bought more of your records, we would not be subjecting you to one of the greatest injustices in the history of mankind ever. It’s patently unfair, this is happening to you. I’ll do anything to make it stop. I’ll buy a copy of “Things Fall Apart” again. I’ll stop talking about how much “Phrenology” sucked. I’ll even subsidize ?uestlove’s epic interracial porn habit if it helps (provided I get a copy of the material transferred to my hard drive. You know, for...uh... billing purposes...). This shouldn’t be happening to you. I can’t stress how deeply and painfully sorry I am that you are being forced to work as the new house band for Jimmy Fuckin’ Fallon. The world didn’t realize what it had until you started toting marijuana for the star of “Taxi” (and not the classic ‘70s sitcom starring Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufman but the shitty crime comedy movie starring Queen Latifah...) I sincerely apologize on the world’s behalf.
The slightly less legendary Roots crew debuted last night on NBC’s sure-fire late night impending aborto-pocalypse “Late Night With Jimmy Falllon” and I watched in a dazed confusion while one of the world’s greatest live bands was wasted playing Bee Gee covers for Justin Timberlake as he and Jimmy Fallon re-hashed marginally, amusing decade old skits from Saturday Night Live; something that can only be described as “Frat-Boys-Doing-Dave-Chappelle-Doing-Rick-James”-esque. This is an experience that can only be more lame by Jimmy Fallon desperately attempting (and completely failing) not to laugh at it his own jokes and a special performance by Van Morrison’s corpse...which all happened. It was the kind of the hallucinogenic, bizzaro experience you expect while either dreaming or in a drug-enhanced, dream-like coma inevitably induced by ingesting the contents of a pharmacy. I half expected Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook (the other two thirds of the trifecta of stand-up comedy awfulness) to appear and perform “Who’s On First?” while Sean Penn provides political commentary and Alex Rodriguez attempts to appear human. It was a true exercise in lame mediocrity. At one point in the show, Jimmy actually had ?uestlove performing drum rolls for college kids from Long Island as they licked household appliances for ten dollars. I really wish I was kidding. All in all, it was a haunting experience and something that can only be appropriately described as apocalyptic. Utterly and completely apocalyptic.
While the Roots have never enjoyed anything remotely resembling mass commercial success, they are group whose bread and butter has always been touring and they seemed to have carved a nice, little niche for themselves as the world’s premier hip hop live band. Better writers have articulated this before but the experience of seeing the Roots live is nothing less than a revelation and none of their recorded music can start to compete with their stage show. The Roots are meant to be seen and not necessarily heard. The musicianship lead by ?uestlove is, of course, fantastic but Black Thought, who despite being one of the great lyrical ass lyrical emcees of his generation is often prone to getting lost on recorded songs, simply dominates the stage when you see him live. Nobody works harder. To wallow in hyperbole for moment, Black Thought to some extent is the James Brown of hip hop. He’s the best live performer the genre has. What makes the Roots decision to join Jimmy Fallon in his quest to ruin late night television so pointless is that unless they have an innovative way to work Black Thought into the proceedings, they are essentially forcing Thought to the background. They are taking one of the strongest assets of their live shows and rendering him moot.
On the first show last night, Thought awkwardly sat to the side of the band as they performed until Fallon engaged him in some short, sub-Kevin Eubanksian chit chat and a short(and I’ll admit pretty funny) musical interlude where he crooned a slow jam about the stimulus package during Fallon’s opening monologue . If they are planning to use him as Fallon’s Paul Shaffer-esque sidekick than I can’t imagine a bigger waste of talent than that. For one, unlike Kevin Eubanks, Paul Shaffer or even Max Weinberg, Black Thought isn’t exactly known for his charismatic personality. He lurks in the background on the tracks when he’s recorded, content to kick thoughtful verses seemingly full of force and hunger but at the same time, inexplicably indistinguishable and unmemorable between each other. If the Roots failed commercially, it’s because the rapper of the group isn’t exactly dripping with Jigga-esque charisma. I can’t imagine Fallon playing off a monotone Black Thought would make great television especially considering ?uestlove, the group’s drummer and de-facto leader, is such a goofy and charming personality. If anybody is going to play Fallon’s Kevin Eubanks, it should be ?uestlove.
I really don’t know why this happening, either. I can’t imagine playing the role of Fallon’s house band is going to make their next record magically sell a million records nor is it going to win them many new fans. Pretty much, everybody I know likes the group in theory regardless if they like hip hop or not. It's strange phenomenon. Everybody likes the group but I don't know many who actually own Roots records but perhaps that's because their biggest hit, "The Seed 2.0", is this bizarre neo-soul rap rock hybrid. All I can really see this move doing is alienating them from their core of self-righteous, okayplaying real hip hop cargo shorters. Remember this is a fan base that almost revolted when they attempted to make a pop song with the lead singer of Fall Out Boy last year (not that I’m suggesting “Birthday Girl” wasn’t the worst song the Roots have ever recorded)? I can only think of three reasons why they would do this and none of them are because they are fans of Jimmy Fallon’s stint destroying Saturday Night Live:
1. They hate themselves and are secretly sado-masochists and think that watching Jimmy Fallon fumble his lines is a cost-effective way to punish themselves for their sins.
While I personally can respect a group hell-bent on self destruction as recent forays into my own personal life have displayed, nothing strikes me about the Roots as being that particularly dark.
2. They are being PAID.
NBC backed up the money truck on Black Thought’s front lawn and provided ?uestlove with a lifetime supply of Jenna Haze DVD’s and hired Tera Patrick to be his personal sex slave.
3. They are tired of touring.
This is the most logical conclusion considering the band has been touring for damn near two decades without stop and acting as Jimmy Fallon’s house band gives them a sense of stability. It’s a grind to tour and the endless whirlwind of the process must have worn thin with the group. They are never going to be superstars and they figured that this would be an easy way to make some money and not have to deal with the constant pressures that life on tour provided.
The Roots are better than this. They shouldn’t have to be working for Jimmy Fallon this late into their careers. You have to wonder what this says about the world we live in right now when even a successful and famous band are being forced to take up shitty day jobs to make ends meet. With the world collapsing around us and Wall Street kicking and screaming into a unsure economic future even our celebrities need to sacrifice. I just wish the Roots didn’t have to work for Jimmy Fallon. He ruined the Red Sox first World Series win in 86 years by running out on the field and making out with Drew Barrymore.... Actually, that was pretty awesome. Fuck Boston.