What's the best advice Jay-Z ever gave you on this project?The most important thing is, we know you need a radio hit to survive in the market, but, and I don't even know if it's coming from an ego standpoint. But, I think his biggest fear is that if we don't make it in the eyes of the world, they're going to blame the big bad wolf Jay-Z. So, his whole thing was "Yo, I'm not Jimmy Iovine. Don't come here with no bullsh*t. If y'all come here with snap music, I'm snapping y'all the f*ck out of my audience. If I hear y'all remotely trying to jump on some trend or all of a sudden, Tariq got a southern accent, I'm kicking y'all off this label. I want the real Roots album." We were like, "What about the marketplace," and he said "Let me worry about that." It's very easy to cash in like "With Hov here, we can get away with murder now." Nah, it's not like that. This is going to be a bigger challenge than our first album.
When did you first meet J Dilla?1995. He was just quiet and I only knew him through the Pharcyde. They played me a demo for "Drop" but I couldn't hear it because the headphones were messed up and we were at a show. But, Once I was walking towards the tour bus, I heard these kicks. The rhythm was offbeat like the record was skipping. I just didn't know that you could program drums real messed up and your client not get mad at you. So, I ran back to the club, and I was listening to the song like "what the f*ck." The next night, I was asking them who did the song and they said it was Jay Dee from Detroit. Me and him met for the first time in Virginia. I have a documented footage of me and him. Out of boredom, I decided to challenge him. So, we played the "Blind Olympics." Proof (of D-12) chose three records for me, Frank from Frank'n' Dank chose three records for Dilla. He killed me.
What did y'all do with the records? Sample them?Oh, we had five minutes to make a beat blind, without knowing the records. At first, I cried foul because both Frank and Proof were Dilla's friends. So, I chose the records for him. I made sure I chose records with no drums, no loops, nothing. I gave him Rick James' "Street Songs." He was like "you sure about this," and he did something that I would never forget. He took the intro to "Give it To Me Baby," slowed it down to an impossible rate, rearranged the bassline. I wanted to cry that day. The next day, Common heard it and liked it, and it wound up being "Doin' It" on Common's album. He taught me that there's a third option. If you can look at the glass and say it's half empty or half-full, he sees a third way to look at it. If there's one thing that every producer can agree on, from Madlib to Just Blaze, it's that he's the "messiah of beat-making" and I know people are like "What about Dr. Dre?" There's a difference between beat-making and being an icon. Dre's iconness just makes him Dre. Discovering Eminem makes him an even bigger Dre. I consider everyone great, but, there's only one Charlie Parker in this world.
What's your favorite Roots album?You asking me that is like 'what's my favorite breath?'
Laughter The only album that I'll go back to - and I know it's not fair to say this - is Home Grown.
Oh c'mon. Give me a real studio albumBut it is a real studio album. [Laughs] It depends. Do You Want More!!??!! is The Roots' purist favorite album, but, that was a personal turmoil time for me. For some, it's Things Fall Apart, which was the end of the 'electric lady' period. Phrenology was the fearless album. So, it depends.
Realistically, how long do you think The Roots has as a group?Rich [Nichols] thinks we have four more relevant records in us, before we become the Neville Brothers or the Rolling Stones.
And just focus on touring?Right. Personally, I think we've got six, because there's a slew of things that I want to do. I'd like to do the 'duets' record and I don't mean the Biggie Duets. I mean duets as in us White Stripe-ing it. Duos and trios; Me and Tariq; Tariq and Hub Me, Tariq and Kamal; Me, Tariq and Kirk;
You did a little bit of that on Things Fall Apart, right?Yeah, but, I dream of doing a show where there's no more than three members at the same time, then we all come together for the encore. I consider that the fragment record
Sounds interestingI mean this album [Game Theory] has the most strings and orchestra out of every Roots album. Scott [Storch] is not on this record.
This will be the first time Scott is MIA, right?Right. I mean Scott is bigger than hip-hop itself right now. He wasn't even like "I don't have time for you guys." He literally didn't have time for us. The Tippin' Point was the only album where I didn't balance the fragment themes. It's like here's the Roots-sounding track, and here's the Scott Storch-sounding record, and that was my regret about The Tippin' Point. Even though, we worked with our inner circle musicians on The Game Theory, we made sure that this album sounded consistent throughout.