You’ve been on the road promoting Rising Down. How has the road been treating you?
It’s been good. We haven’t been doing any Rising Down dates. We’ve been supporting Erykah Badu. I guess the tour was called The Vortex Tour. We just finished that four or five days ago. The first days that we’re actually going out on to support this new album will be European dates. We’re going out there in the next month for three weeks. And we’ll come back stateside in September and we’ll be on tour in September and October on our official tour with Gym Class Heroes opening up for us.
It seems like you’re always on the road. Do you ever get tired of touring?
Sometimes. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing a show. I get tired of being on the road as much as anyone who works a job. Sometimes you don’t feel like going on the road that day but you gotta make the dough to feed the babies.
The Roots are on tour longer than most artists and groups. Just how important is touring to The Roots?
I mean, to The Roots, it’s utterly important. There’s probably nothing more important. Our touring career is what allows us to have a recording career. With a lot of people, it’s vice versa. They can only do shows when they have a record out or a record to promote, but our shit is the opposite. We’re always doing shows and we just get a better rate when we got a record out.
How much preparation goes into a Roots show?
It depends where we are and if we’re using a new person and if they may not be familiar with the material. It takes us a few days to plan it out and it’s rare to take that much time because there are no outsiders. Everybody down with The Roots is a fixture and they know how to roll with the punches. We do so many shows that we don’t really need to rehearse. Rehearsing makes your shows better but we do so many shows that instead of doing a rehearsal we’re actually doing a real show.
Are you satisfied with how the latest Roots album Rising Down has done so far?
I’m satisfied with the way that it was received. I’m a little less than satisfied at the sales, but that’s reflective of the state of the market and the economy of the country. It’s not because it’s not a dope album.
Did you receive the proper promotion for Rising Down?
I think it was promoted well. We basically handled it ourselves. We had two different publicists for this record. We had an outside agency as well as Def Jam. The album was promoted. We did classic videos and there was quite a buzz before it came out. Everything that needed to be done was done.
Why were there so many collaborations on Rising Down?
This was a celebration, like a party. And a lot of people who had made appearances on a Roots record, like Mos Def and Common, were people that you expected us to be working with, like Kweli. And then there were new collaborations that people didn’t expect, like Saigon, Peedi Peedi and Styles P. There were other people we reached out to like Wale, people who are representing the new school of artists that are out there doing shit. So yeah, we made it a party.
Wasn’t Saigon supposed to be on the last album Game Theory?
Saigon did a verse for a song called “Workin’ On It” that was originally going to be on Game Theory. That was produced by Dilla and it was done before he passed. After he passed, there wasn’t a beef but there was confusion over who Dilla wanted to have the beat because me, Kweli and Doom had all done songs to the beat. He wasn’t alive to mediate the situation so none of us put the song out. But Saigon submitted a verse for the last album. It’s not that he didn’t make it on the album. That song didn’t make it.
Why do you think Peedi Crakk has been able to fit in so well with The Roots on your last two albums?
The Roots is a team of free agents. That’s kind of how it’s always been aside from Questlove and myself. So Peedi fits in in that format. What he brings to The Roots is he elevates what we’re doing and he’s very distinct and different what he does with us.
Why did you want to work with Wale on Rising Down?
He’s proving himself to be a consistent artist and a credible artist. His views are along my personal definition and concept of what I think a new artist should be doing to perpetuate the culture of hip-hop as I know it. People my age know. There are a lot of young dudes, people who are Wale’s age, and their definition of hip-hop is different. The game is evolving and that’s cool, but Wale’s views are the same as mine. I’m trying to get more dudes from his generation to see shit the way I see it.
How do you want fans to see Rising Down as a part of the Roots’ catalogue?
I really think it’s a continuation of the Game Theory concept but more in detail. It’s more thematic. It’s more sticking to the concept and sound. It’s still fucked up. It’s not a happy record. We’re not celebrating that. We’re celebrating that we’ve been in the industry long enough to put out 10 records. We were able to put out 10 dope records so it was a celebration in that and that’s why we got a lot of guests on it. But the record, if anything, is a continuation of Game Theory. It’s more refined. Game Theory was about how things were fucked up in the music and the city of Philadelphia. This album is about how things are fucked up all over the world.
Did the overwhelmingly positive response to “75 Bars” let you see that fans really want to hear you spit as opposed to always recording songs?
It did! “75 Bars” wasn’t a song recorded for this album or for anything in mind. It was just something that I got off my chest one day and it became a calling card for this record. It just goes to show you that people don’t necessarily want something that’s that deep. People sometimes just want to hear you go bonkers over that beat. And the standout line is “I’m in the field with a shield and a spear, nigga/I’m in your girl with her heels in the air, nigga.” That was just some bullshit to me. I didn’t even go in the booth for that. But that’s what people want. You gotta give them what the want sometimes.
I’m actually about to put out a solo record on this label called Razor and Tie and there will probably be some more joints like that.
Do you think a solo album that shows you rocking with other producers is overdue?
What is a solo album for me? Me without my partners? I’m a solo artist. It’s all about success. And Quest don’t really produce that much of The Roots shit, to be honest with you. The production, in general, and the conceptualization of the song, is all over the place. I get beats from all types of dudes. It’s just an understanding that once I’m married to a beat and I’m going to use it, certain elements are going to be replayed and changed. Questlove probably will change your bass and platy the drums live. But if it’s a solid production, I’ll still use that beat. It’s not like I only work with Questlove. For all intents and purposes, we’re able to come together and decide who we’re going to work together. We do it like that.
Will you work with Ritz, who brought The Roots “Get Busy”, on the solo album?
Oh, yeah. Ritz is definitely on there. We’re working with Ritz and his production crew as well. Ritz is actually a team. No man is an island. When you get Black Thought you get Questlove. Anyone in the game who is doing relatively well is surrounded by some kind of committee who will help you move and decide whether or not you should move a certain way.
Getting back to “75 Bars”, are you ever surprised by what your fans say is dope versus what you think they will say is dope?
Sometimes it’s surprising. With this album, every song can stand on its own right. It’s not as surprising with this album as it has been maybe in the past. With certain lines, like the “shield and the spear” line, I thought I would probably get some flack for that line from people from all walks of life, like women and grandmothers. None of the other lines are important in that song. People only pay attention to the “shield and the spear” line with “in your girl with her heels in the air.” That’s where the beat drops. I’m sure when Questlove did that drop, he was like, ‘Yeah, the shield and the spear.’ That’s exactly how it worked out. I feel like the music is either going to go over their head or under their head.
As an artist you want the fans to get into your music, but do your fans ever get too into your music to the point where it gets over-analyzed?
The fans on OkayPlayer are definitely over-analytical. They get on my fucking nerves. They’re like sonic snobs.
In one way it’s better than the fans not listening at all.
I mean, it’s definitely appreciated. It’s appreciated. I would rather people be super-interested and super-analytical than totally ignoring it. But it’s like a double-edged sword. You have to be careful what you wish for.
How would you define a “sonic snob”?
A sonic snob is a person who feels like whatever they’re listening to defines what is music and what is cutting edge or what is hip-hop. They think that what they’re into is the end-all and be-all and if you’re not up on that shit or something that’s sonically similar or remotely cut from the same cloth of whatever they feel like is the flavor of the music at the moment, then they feel like your shit is wack. They’re sonic snobs.
I’m definitely appreciative of the fact that I have all these thousands of fans who go on OkayPlayer.com every day and have these in-depth discussions about this shit. But when I’m over there reading these blogs and seeing who they’re up on, that’s the foundation of hip-hop almost. You define your shit. You’re confident in your shit. You believe in it and fuck who doesn’t.
Getting into your solo album, how’s the album coming so far?
It’s coming pretty well. It’s under way. I got some songs under the belt already. It’s too early for me to tell you who I’m going to collaborate with, but I definitely have some joints ready and it’s going to be well-received.
Is there a strong demand from the fans right now for a Black Thought solo album?
The fans have always wanted a Black Thought solo album. I’ve always had my own endeavors and it was well underway before Phrenology came out. I’m sure you heard the stories how I had my solo songs and put them on Phrenology and it became a Roots album. I had “Thought At Work” and “Quills” and “Water” and “Rock You”. I had a lot of classic joints and had there been no quotas and interviews, I think that would have been well-received. But when it became a Roots album, my half of the record was done and then we had to rush a Root-sy sounding rest of the record and that’s why a lot of people can’t get with Phrenology.
Conceptually, I don’t feel like it gels. We’ve gotten better at making it conceptual, which is how it should be. People shouldn’t say that our album that we put out a few years ago is our tightest record. That would be going backwards.
Do you regret what you did with Phrenology or would you put your solo songs on the album again if you were to do it over?
If I could do it all again I would keep those solo songs for myself and just put out some different joints on Phrenology. I would have just put out some different joints. I mean, I had some dope songs. I had some songs that people never even heard. My album was definitely going to change the game. I played that shit with Dr. Dre and it scared the shit out of him. I was actually in the studio with Scott Storch. I had some songs with him for my solo album. But yeah, I was in the lab with Dr. Dre and I just played my shit while I was working on it. Dre definitely said it was a problem.
Would you work with Scott Storch again today?
I don’t know. It’s definitely a possibility. Everything I’ve ever gotten from Scott I’ve been happy with. But he’s at a turning point in his career where he’s going through a rough patch. I don’t know where he is work-wise and schedule-wise, but it’s a possibility.
How did your group The Money Makin’ Jam Boys come together?
The Money Makin’ Jam Boys formed itself. My squad is in there every day, rapping on my shit before I even get the beats anyway. It’s a chance for Dice and Truck and P.O.R.N. and Skillz and some of the other talented MCs that we work with to get some gwop.
Dice Raw does a lot of work behind the scenes. How important is he to what you do?
From the time I started working on my solo shit, he’s been my wingman. He’s been gradually progressing. He’s been behind the scenes and he’s been my writing partner and A&R. At a certain point in time, everyone we were working with, they weren’t always feeling Dice or feeling his submissions or believing in Dice as much as they maybe had in the past. But I kind of never stopped believing in Dice since he was 14 years-old. He’s always been a fixture. Whenever I would go travel somewhere to work on a record, I would take him with me, even if I wasn’t going to listen to what I said, just so he could be out there and just kind of start taking his own life. Now it’s a scene where I don’t have to be home or present at all and he’s able to run it. It worked out well.
How is the Money Makin’ Jam Boys album coming?
It’s coming along dope. We got an album’s worth of shit right now just from toying around with it. We haven’t even gone into serious gear. The situation looks really right for the Jam Boys.
Do you feel like you are ever slept on as an MC because you’re so often seen as a member of The Roots?
I get overshadowed. But it doesn’t really bother me because everybody already knows.
What do you think of the 360 deals major labels and Live Nation are offering to artists?
Those Live Nation deals are pretty sweet. But I feel the way labels are now going to cover their ass with the slumping sales, they’re going to want the money from your merchandise, all the merch, and they’re going to want your show money. And if you don’t already have these situations set up to prevent that from happening, then you just need to try to cover your ass as much as possible and negotiate your deal for the way you want it to be before you sign that shit. But that’s what they want. The money used to be all for the artist. You would make more money on the road than with your record sales. I know we did that with The Roots. We made millions and millions of dollars touring, way more than I made selling a record.
Would The Roots be better off on a major or independent today?
I don’t know. That’s hard to say. You never know. Def Jam is different from Geffen and that’s different from MCA. You just never know. You never know. When MCA became affiliated with Interscope, that was going to be different from the MCA/Geffen days. It’s all different. But when you’re associated with a major, it’s not more exposure but it’s a different type of exposure. If you’re independent, you’re going to be perceived differently; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. It’s all about your plan and I ain’t telling you my plan.
You’ve also done some work with up-and-coming artist Fong Sai U. What’s been going on with him?
That’s one of my little dudes. I’ve known him for 18 years. You’ve got to be able to help yourself though. I want him to be able to help himself. He’s a decent MC. He just needs to buckle down on his writing and discipline himself. I talk to Fong Sai all the time. He’s never in the studio. I don’t know where he’s at. It’s rare for him to be like, ‘I’m in the lab.’ Anybody talks to me I’m in the lab and if I’m not in the lab I’m on the stage. That’s what I do. It’s fucking discipline. You gotta make shit happen.
What’s your writing process like?
My writing process…I’m constantly writing down words and phrases that I think sound dope and then when I sit down to put a song together, I look through pages of lines or words or ideas that I put down and I stitch them together.
Have you guys started the next Roots album?
We started the next Roots album too. Right now I’m working on the new Roots album, the money Makin’ Jam Boys album, my solo album and a singing album with Danger Mouse. I’m trying to keep a full plate.
How's the album with Danger Mouse coming?
It’s coming along well. We started working on it a couple years ago. We took a little hiatus, obviously, for Gnarls Barkley to tour and do all that shit. Now we’re going to go back in the lab on it and finish what we began. It’s tentatively going to be called Dangerous Thoughts. It makes sense.
Where do you see The Roots’ sound evolving in the future?
More scoring for films. More soundtrack shit. More concept albums that stick together thematically and pop. I’m going to be doing more acting and working on my career as a thespian. I’m going to do some voiceover shit for cartoons. You can expect all of that in ’09.
20 years from now when you look back on your accomplishments, what do you want your legacy to be in hip-hop?
I want people to say that Black Thought was the best MC of all-time, to ever grace the planet Earth and to hold a microphone, ever, ever. (laughs) That shouldn’t be too hard.