Happy 20th Anniversary to The Roots sophomore album Do You Want More?!!!??!, originally released January 17, 1995.
Its reasonable to assume that a substantial number of people are now familiar with The Roots primarily or exclusively because of their lucrative gig as the charisma-oozing house band for The Tonight Show. But the more informed and reverential music heads among us are well aware that the Philadelphia-grown groups history prior to hooking up with Jimmy Fallon in 2009 is a bountiful one, worthy of much deeper exploration by their more casual late night TV admirers.
Rewind the clock twenty years, and I can vividly recall the afternoon that I was formally introduced to The Roots music and instantly transformed into a lifelong champion of their sound. I was halfway through my senior year of high school at the time, and I routinely skipped off campus during my free periods to peruse the bins at the local record stores, forking over whatever extra cash I had on me for the latest objects of my musical affection.
Leopold Records in Berkeley, CA sadly, out of business for nearly twenty years now was my go-to shop, without question. An impressive store that stocked an extensive and eclectic array of records, yet catered more toward urban music aficionados, Leopold was my mecca of music, you could say. I adored the place and still lament that dark day in 1996 when I discovered its doors locked for good, while home from college for a short visit. (As a side note, Tower Records would subsequently move from its original location next door to the space vacated by Leopold, only to close as well a handful of years later. Pretty sure that this was around the same time that record stores were formally added to the endangered species list, a regrettable trend that has shown few signs of losing steam in recent years.)
But on the afternoon of January 17, 1995, Leopold was as vibrant of a store as ever, and I strolled through its doors with giddy anticipation, as I always had. Upon carefully studying the new releases display that greeted visitors at the front of the store, contemplating which one of the fine CDs featured would come home with me that day, my concentration was interrupted by a gravelly, baritone, vaguely recognizable voice addressing me from behind. Yeah, you need to buy The Roots album, the voice demanded, as if it already knew where my attention had been leaning. Dont waste your time with the others right now.
I turned around toward the bag check desk that was located parallel to the new releases, and immediately discovered why the voice had sounded so familiar to me. The voice belonged to none other than Del the Funky Homosapien, the elder statesmen of the Hieroglyphics crew and the now globally-revered MC known for his stellar work with Gorillaz, Deltron 3030, along with his consistently superb solo and Hiero family output. Yep, believe it or not, Del worked at Leopold for a short time, following the dissolution of his recording contract with Elektra, a deal that was responsible for two of my favorite LPs of all time, I Wish My Brother George Was Here and No Need for Alarm both bona fide hip-hop classics. I was admittedly forced to do a double-take when I registered that Del (Del!) was standing before me, but I immediately thanked him for his recommendation, which was really more of a direct order that I could not in my right mind disobey, and left the store with Do You Want More?!!!??! in hand.
Little did I know at the time that the CD I grasped in my hand represented what would quickly become one of my most beloved albums of all time. In fact, Id unequivocally include it within my personal top 10 LPs of all time, across all genres and styles. If youll forgive just one more personal anecdote (last one, I promise), nearly four years after Do You Want More?!!!??!s release, during my senior year at UCLA, I interned for Geffen/DGC Records, The Roots first major record label and the company known for bankrolling behemoth rock albums including Nirvanas Nevermind and Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction. As acclaimed as Geffen/DGCs artist roster was in the late 1990s (comprised of Sonic Youth, Beck, and Hole to name a few), I recall being ecstatic about the opportunity, primarily because it was with the company responsible for releasing Do You Want More?!!!??!. (The Roots short-lived, two-albums-deep relationship with Geffen was reportedly not the happiest of marriages for the band, perhaps owing to the labels disproportionate focus on alternative rock acts relative to urban artists.)
My familiarity with The Roots hadnt been a completely naïve one, prior to receiving the ringing endorsement from the aforementioned reliable source at Leopold. Distortion to Static Do You Want More?!!!??!s hypnotic lead single had already been tickling my eardrums for a few months, after I first heard the song via Sway & King Techs The Wake Up Show on my local Bay Area radio station, KMEL. And I was aware that the band had already released two records 1993s self-released, criminally underappreciated Organix LP and 1994s From the Ground Up EP released through Geffen in the US and consummate tastemaker Gilles Petersons UK-based Talkin Loud label in Europe. The latter release actually featured a handful of songs that would also be included on Do You Want More?!!!??! months later, including Distortion to Static.
These precursor releases were fantastic in their own right, dont get me wrong. But Do You Want More?!!!??! seemed to signify the proper arrival of this dynamic group with a refreshingly distinct voice and sound. Before I even popped the disc in the player for the first time, two aesthetic details made a big impression on me. First, the sleek cover art evocative of Blue Note Records classic album designs and photography, which simultaneously suggested credibility, cool and fidelity to the great music of the past. An apropos artwork choice, considering the natural fusion of hip-hop and jazz that pervades the album. Second, the fact that the track listing on the back cover did not begin as expected with Track 1, but curiously with Track 18, picking up where Organixs closing Track 17 left off. The implication being that Do You Want More?!!!??! didnt represent a new and separate work disconnected from the record that preceded it, but rather served as the next chapter in The Roots broader, evolving story as a band.
Musically, what initially struck me and still excites me upon listening to Do You Want More?!!!??! is the profoundly unique aural experience of the album. It simply doesnt sound like any other hip-hop records that were being produced in the mid-90s, and certainly not like anything youll hear today. The Roots are a hip-hop band a phenomenally talented one with live instrumentation, a fundamentally different proposition than the standard DJ & MC(s) manning two turntables and a microphone.
Propelled by the harmonious conflation of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompsons deftly executed percussion (the albums sonic foundation), Tariq “Black Thought” Trotters commanding rhyme flow (which warrants recognition among the master class of emcees like Rakim, Jay-Z, and Biggie), and the headnod-inducing production wizardry of The Grand Negaz (among others), Do You Want More?!!!??! is damn near flawless. Just shy of perfect, because no album can be completely devoid of flaws, right? Trouble is, after 20 years of wearing this record out, Ive yet to locate any flaws here. Go figure.
In his introspectively astute 2013 memoir Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, Questlove confesses that:
In my head, when I replayed our record next to other records that I loved, I was convinced that we were in the company of other classics. De La Souls 3 Feet High and Rising was such a creative record and the world ate it up. A Tribe Called Quests Low End Theory was such a creative record and the world ate it up. But there was one thing both of those albums had that we lacked, and that was a hit single. If you were De La Soul, you could talk all you wanted about your commitment to artistry and pushing the boundaries of the genre, but the fact was that Me Myself and I was a gold single, and it moved the record along. It was the same thing with Tribes Scenario. The Roots didnt have that. In fact, I wasnt sure what we had.
Despite the absence of any commercially fruitful singles, what The Roots did most certainly have, in my opinion, was a collection of songs that rightfully belongs within the pantheon of timeless albums that Questlove refers to. To my ears, Do You Want More?!!!??! is just as vitally important as 3 Feet High and Rising, The Low End Theory, Illmatic, Paid in Full, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and the handful of LPs regarded as irrefutable hip-hop classics.
As the album title rhetorically inquires, the album did indeed leave me craving much, much more from these gentlemen. And theyve more than delivered, with album after album after album that has followed. To this day, my appetite for The Legendary Roots Crews music a prolific discography that shows no evidence of slowing down anytime soon remains insatiable. The Roots are the quintessential class act, and Do You Want More?!!!??! is one of the most beautiful, masterfully executed albums hip-hop, jazz or otherwise ever made. If youve never indulged in the undeniable thrill of this brilliant LP, youre forgiven (for the time being) and theres still plenty of time for you to do yourself the favor.
My Favorite Song (man, tough to choose just one, but alright, if I must): Silent Treatment
“Distortion to Static” (1994)
“Proceed”/”Distortion to Static”/”Mellow My Man” (Live in Montreux) (1994)
BUY The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!Stream Here: