No one could accuse The Roots or its principle co-founders and mouthpieces, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, of slacking.
Along with the full ensemble’s weeknightly performance as the live house band for Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” on NBC, Trotter and Thompson started Passyunk Productions and are working on two children’s shows for Amazon Studios: one a live-action program, the other an animated kids’ show.
While Thompson busies himself with DJ gigs and authoring books such as 2015’s “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove,” Trotter recently got into the solo entrepreneurial act with the start of his “Black Thought Presents…. Delirious” stand-up comedy events — first at the Punch Line Comedy Club in his hometown of Philadelphia, with more to follow at other Punch Line locations nationally.
However, everything will stop — for a moment anyway — on June 3 as The Roots host and perform with guests such as Pharrell Williams, Solange and Lil Wayne during their 10th Annual Roots Picnic at Festival Pier on the Philly waterfront.
Since its start, the Roots Picnic has become a mini-festival event drawing audiences from around the globe, and a wide array of guest performers from the hip-hop/R&B realm (past guests have ranged from Snoop Dogg and Diplo to Usher and St. Vincent). “We usually have a greater diversity in terms of genre,” says Trotter of the Picnic’s usual slate of alternative acts. “This year is how God smiled on us.”
This year’s Picnic, however, is even more unique in that Black Thought is curating his own “mixtape stage,” which features a unique gathering: a reunion with The Roots’ early keyboardist Scott Storch, a member of the band from 1993–1995 before he broke off and became a successful producer/ songwriter (Terror Squad’s “Lean Back,” hits for Beyoncé, T.I., Tupac, 50 Cent, Christina Aguilera and more).
Trotter says that he, Thompson and Roots’ manager Shawn Gee (along with original manager Richard Nichols, who died of leukemia in 2014) have always curated and booked the Picnic’s acts, but that his “mixtape stage” is a bit more personal.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen Scott or that he hasn’t played with us,” says Trotter, recalling several scenarios where the band and its ex-keyboard player happened to be in the same town and jammed onstage. “Those nights greased the wheels for this to be more special — a sort of reunion — as this is where we all come from. Philly is where it all began.” Having said that, a spin-off version was staged in Manhattan for a weekend last October. “We’re still too busy with the June 3 event to say what’s what with any Roots Picnic NYC,” says Trotter.
That’s not where the busy schedule ends.
There’s a matter of the new Roots album, “End Game,” the band’s 17th studio release, due in the Fall. “It’s our most amazing and timely, if I do say so myself,” Trotter said. Pressed for details (i.e. Trump, Black Lives Matter), he says simply, “Oh, you can guess.”
The two still-unnamed children’s series through Amazon Studios are influenced by The Roots’ time with VH1, creating and producing “Soul Stage” (2008-2009), doing kids shows such as “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” and Trotter’s own children.
“‘The Tonight Show’ afforded us the opportunity to work with The Muppets and other ‘Sesame Street’ characters, and we always had the desire to do something that spoke to young people,” he says. “I’d love to do a show that my kids would enjoy, especially since I have one coming up on two years old.” Trotter demurred at providing details on either show, except to say “There probably won’t be an animated The Roots or Black Thought as there was say, an animated Michael Jackson when ‘The Jackson 5’ cartoon show was on when we were kids. I’m sure there’ll be some autobiographical references though tour lives.”
In the nearer future, however, one show that Passyunk Productions will helm is the filmed version of “Black Thought’s Delirious” and its line-up of stand-up comedians who appear at the Philadelphia Punch Line Comedy Club on a once-a-month basis. Cameras will roll officially on the June 2 iteration, starring J.B. Smoove from “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
And while Trotter admits that he might not be wildly humorous as a rapper, he’s learned a lot about comedy from his pal Jimmy Fallon. “I do not seem like a funny guy,” he says. “But for the last eight years, five days a week, I’ve worked on a comedy sketch show, whether it was Jimmy’s ‘Late Show’ or ‘The Tonight Show.’ Sometimes the comedy is dry, sometimes I’m in an apron or a blonde wig. Something had to rub off.