There are two important things to know about this Saturday’s 12th annual Roots Picnic.
For the first time, the all-day festival will be taking place at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, a greener pasture than its former home, the no longer extant Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing.
And this Picnic will feature the Roots performing Things Fall Apart, the pivotal 1999 album that was the Philadelphia hip-hop collective and Tonight Show band’s breakthrough, with the hit “You Got Me,” which was cowritten with Jill Scott and featured Eve and Erykah Badu.
Other attractions on the three stages include 21 Savage, the born-in-Britain Atlanta rapper who was detained by ICE earlier this year; H.E.R., the moniker of Grammy-winning singer Gabi Wilson; and retro soul dynamo Raphael Saadiq, backed by Soulquarians and anchored by Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
Also on the stacked bill: New Orleans party band Tank & the Bangas, neo-soul singer Ari Lennox and Miami rap duo City Girls. This year, Roots rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and J. Period’s “mixtape,” has serious star power in Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def). And yes, there will be Questlove Cheesesteaks (without meat), podcasts, “femmepowerment” panel discussions, and a Common book signing.
Last year, Black Thought burnished his esteemed rep as an unparalleled MC with two EPs released under the Streams of Thought rubric. This week, he took a break from a break in the Bahamas to talk about Things Fall Apart, what it means to have the Picnic in Fairmount Park, and his new sideline as a stand-up comic.
I’m doing Delirious, my comedy thing at Punchline. I produce it. Chris Redd, one of the SNL comics, is headlining. I emcee, and then I’ll come out and do comedy at the top.
I’ve been doing that for a few years now. I don’t see it as being any different from what I do with music, in that it comes from a real place. It’s given me a deeper appreciation for the craft and for what comedians do. You’re super vulnerable. It’s just you up there. You have to be fearless. It’s about timing, and so many different elements that I use as a performer elsewhere come into play.
With a couple breaks for special guests. But yes, in its entirety.
Not everybody. But people who have been performing and who have been professional musicians since then, will be there.
Yeah. I’m not sure if Scott Storch is going to be there, but it would be great. The first records that Jill Scott, Eve, and Beans were on were primarily Scott Storch productions. The gang’s all going to be there.
It was a coming-of-age record. It was a period, a moment in time, during which the Roots sort of solidified our place in music history. We etched out our identity. I don’t think even going into that recording process we even fully understood who we are, what we would become. What we mean — to the city, to the industry. To the art. By the time the record was done, we realized the weight of it. It’s our watershed moment.
I think back then, during the time we were working on this album, we were at our most informed, our most dialed into history and the future and what was going on politically, and the shape of things to come. So yeah, I feel like the planets and stars were in alignment. And very much what I’ve been talking about since then, began on that record.
We’ve got lots of songs, lots of ideas. When is the Roots album going to come out? I don’t know, in all honesty. I thought it’d be out by now. The way music is received nowadays, anything that is 15 to 20 minutes long could be considered an album. So in that sense, we have many albums done and I have many Streams of Thoughts [mixtapes] done.
It would be easier, and the record would probably be out by now, if we didn’t have this job that takes up all of our time. When we’re not onstage at The Tonight Show, Quest has his own brand, and he’s doing all sorts of other things, as am I. It’s really easier said than done to get Roots stuff solidified. I probably have as much Black Thought stuff done as there is Roots music.
The sad truth is, you might hear all of that before you hear a Roots album. I hope not. I hope we get it out soon, because so much of it is so good. Not to toot my own horn, but this new Roots stuff is sort of what the world needs. The true test of it will be, did we record such a timeless classic in 2016 that if we put it out in 2020, it will stick so hard? That’s the definition of a classic. If when it’s unearthed, the time is right.
Yeah we found a way to cope. But he’s missed dearly. So many of the milestones of what he was working towards are taking place in accordance with his vision.
We used to have what we’d call “Well, Ahmir, Well, Tariq” moments. Like Laurel and Hardy. ‘What a nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.’ We’d look at one another: ‘Well Ahmir? Well Tariq?’
But we also have “What-Rich-would-have-wanted” moments. And more than anything “What-would-Rich-do?” moments. That’s how we stick to our guns and how we get into our best business minds.
I’m very excited. It’s the realization of a dream. It’s the original plan and vision — where we always wanted to be, near Belmont Plateau. To be in a more central Philadelphia location and in an actual community. It’s in an actual park.
I feel like this will probably be the most family-friendly that we’ve had, as opposed to being on that piping hot slab of concrete. We toughed it out over the years with the kids out there, but you also want to be able to spread a blanket out.
Yeah, for years to come.
This year, the Mixtape and the main stage are going to feel really connected. “Double Trouble” [on Things Fall Apart] was the first time me and Mos made a serious record together. It marks the recording beginning of a long friendship and brotherhood.
The Picnic this year is going to be a homecoming. And there’s no better way to kick off and sort of christen and bless this new ground than to do it with your Day Ones. Your original cast of characters.