Tariq Trotter has done alright for himself. Born in Philadelphia to parents involved in the Nation of Islam (and both of whom were murdered while he was a child), he met Ahmir Thompson in high school and started playing gigs in the street and at talent shows, before they were old enough to perform in actual bars. soon, they fleshed the group out and took the name The Square Roots.
As a hip hop group that performed without DJs or samples, they were a bit of a novelty, but there was a space for them in the alt-music landscape of the early 1990s. They eventually dropped the word “Square” from their name, and released their first album, Organix, in 1993. It was their third album, 1996’s amazing Illadelph Halflife, that launched them. After that, The Roots were a going concern, and an influence on modern hip hop that extended far beyond Philadelphia.
Trotter’s stage name, Black Thought, was perfect for his demeanor. Neither shouter nor mumbler, not didactic or preachy, he feeds you his lines like he’s walking down the street beside you, telling you what’s on his mind. If you haven’t listened to the Roots before they wound up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, I envy you getting to listen to (especially) Illadelph and Things Fall Apart. Hunt that stuff down. And after a break while they established themselves as unlikely TV stars, and which Thompson (as ?uestlove) is now the most famous drummer in America, they’ve started releasing albums again, which is absolutely ace.