The “hardest working band in show business” has been on the go since Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson met in high school and formed The Roots back in 1987. Since then they’ve released 11 studio albums, collaborated with Elvis Costello, John Legend and Betty Wright, won Grammys, landed a spot as the house band on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" and even slow-jammed the news with President Barack Obama.
Still, through it all they’ve maintained love for Philly. Here’s a tour of the local spots that bred The Roots, from their first show to the huge parties they throw each year. And what's a Roots tour of Philly without a sampling of their songs with references to their hometown?
Back in early 1993, The Roots performed their first show at The Painted Bride, a landmark Philly arts venue known more for experimental dance performances than nurturing budding hip-hop acts. Stop by to see the stage where The Roots launched their live act, but first check out Questlove’s reaction to the video 19 years later:
snap! on video!? http://t.co/x0zLbjsh early 1993 Roots Show. This is where i got Do You Want/Things Fall Apart intros from. WOW!— Questlove Gomez (@questlove) April 4, 2012
You also can catch a show by up and coming local artists while you’re there. You never know— you could be hearing the next big thing.
The Roots regularly return to Philly, and they’ve been throwing parties on Penn’s Landing for seven years and counting. The Roots Picnic is a huge outdoor musical event that takes place annually along the Delaware River on Festival Pier. The Roots handpick artists to perform and sometimes even serve as their back-up band. 2014 saw The Roots play alongside Snoop Dogg and Janelle Monáe, along with Philly-based artists like Chill Moody.
And while you're there, on the same stretch of river as Festival Pier, you’ll find the brand new Spruce Street Harbor Park and Race Street Pier. With hammocks, floating barges and waterfront pedestrian walkways, these are perfect for strolling.
See where it all began by walking by CAPA, the Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts. Black Thought (“I’m a corner boy from South Philly”) walked to school and met Questlove (a West Philadelphia boy) here. They've described this performance-focused public school as being “like 'Fame.'” Fun fact: Boyz II Men also went to CAPA, though sadly they didn’t have the staying power of The Roots.
Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program, said, “We picked The Roots because not only are they a quintessential Philly band, but we love the story about how they met at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts; we love how they played on street corners, how their tenacity and passion drove them forward, we love their curiosity about all forms of music and their desire to create a unique sound, we like how they are models of being both aspirational and pragmatic—merging art with business in such a creative way.”
In cooperation with Mural Arts, The Roots also created a downloadable curriculum guide for teachers called Roots 101, that’s perfect if you’re raising young Roots fans.
Also, Questlove narrates an audio tour for Mural Arts that explores local murals reflecting the African-American experience in the city. Download the audio guide and let Questlove’s soothing voice guide you through Philly history.
The gritty Theatre of Living Arts, known as The TLA, has hosted almost every act, big or small, that’s ever come through Philadelphia. The Roots have played shows here through the years, and shot their episode of "This or That" here, too. Check out this video for some great Philly tributes from Black Thought and Questlove and catch a show while you’re in town.
Also, The TLA is on South Street, a bustling and eclectic street packed with tattoo parlors and head shops. Questlove and Black Thought used to busk on the corner of Fifth and South Streets before they ever made an album.
Philadelphians aren’t shy about sharing their opinions on where to get the best cheesesteak, but don’t you trust Questlove’s taste? Swing by Tony Luke’s, which Questlove called “My number one spot without a doubt” for this Philly classic: a long roll stuffed with thin-cut steak, melted cheese and fried onions.
Fun fact: Tony Luke himself attended CAPA.
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, also known as Museum Mile, is the setting for the annual Fourth of July Jam. Independence Day sees one of the city’s biggest events, a concert that brings tens of thousands of locals to the Parkway for a free concert curated (and headlined) by The Roots. 2014’s blowout featured Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Hudson and Aloe Blacc, among others. Fun fact: the Parkway is also the home for the Jay-Z-curated Made In America festival.Also, at one end of the Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Post-concert, a fireworks display is launched from behind this iconic building, which is also the place where another hometown hero (albeit a fictional one), Rocky, ran up the steps and looked out onto the city.
All the spots described in this tour are mapped out here. Select View Larger Map to see the full-sized version.