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The Roots keep Rising 

?uestlove discusses latest album, Al Green

The Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots has been making music through live instrumentation for more than 20 years. Their latest album, Rising Down, will be released on April 29 and it's their eighth studio effort since their 1993 debut, Organix.

We recently spoke with drummer Amir "?uestlove" Thompson by phone from a tour stop in St. Louis about the new album and the band's future.

How ready are you guys to have this album get out already?

Time is not soon enough. I'm so over it, I'm ready to go to the next one. (laughs) Technically, we were done with it in September, but being the nagging, anal-retentive people that we are, we went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth trying to fix and tweak stuff, but it's probably the quickest we've ever been done with a record. We started in August and it was done by December.

How many tracks did you wind up with -- I know some were cut, but that's always the case?

We did 20 to 25 for this record before we settled on the final, I forget, 13, 14, 15 ...

"Birthday Girl" was released, but it isn't on the album. Was that because it was already out there?

People knew about it and this is more of a singles market. The whole idea of a record is almost a novelty. The U.K. and Japan version of the label want to keep it and iTunes wanted it as an exclusive and we gave it to them. Really, it didn't fit the mode of the album -- the political nature of the record.

Being that you've said this is your most political album to date, was that just the way it turned out? Did it start going that way and you went with it?

You can't plan a political record. We're from Philadelphia and its affinity for violence and death is at a rate so high that The Wire looks like Disneyland in comparison and that affects you. It affects us personally to the point where that's just the type of music we were churning out. As older people, there ain't no way we're going to get away with "Crank that, Souljaboy." (laughs) So, why not?

Did you have an initial approach to the album of what you wanted to do?

If anything, this is probably just a return to the meat and potatoes hip-hop that we kind of felt was lacking from the marketplace today and that we haven't done in about 10 to 15 years. Phrenology was very experimental, Tipping Point was very straight-ahead and Game Theory was very melancholy. So, this was sort of our return to Illadelph Halflife.

How do you think the political landscape has impacted hip-hop?

Now, I think what has happened is that it's such an indifferent environment in terms of the way people feel. Natalie Maines', her silent career execution -- of the Dixie Chicks -- definitely played loud in the minds of folks who were even thinking about raising their voices to speak out against something they didn't believe in. Even in light of her being right in retrospect, she still got punished. Add on top of it that you have to numb your pain away. I feel as though a lot of the lack of any type of political agenda inside of hip-hop is due to the fact this generation is numb ... numb as hell. So, it's like, why even preach to deaf ears when nobody gives a fuck. That's the whole attitude. I thought people would be up in arms and rioting in the streets, but they just let people get away with murder.

Are you surprised there isn't more politics in music these days?

I gotta admit, I was very surprised. I'm not saying that everyone's stayed silent. Springsteen did two great records during the Bush administration, but Springsteen isn't enough. I think it really would have counted if a young person had gotten on that level.

I'm assuming that it was a conscious decision to release the album on the anniversary of the L.A. riots?

Pretty much. That was the last time in history that I saw black folks angered to the point of absolute ... of something that passionate. That was the last time that's ever happened. We just figured it was a good time to release it.

What was the reason for starting the album with the "Pow Wow"?

Two reasons. I wanted to show people that we basically ... there's an assumption that ever since we came to Def Jam, that's when all the troubles began. I wanted to show people that even before Do You Want More?!!!??! came out, that was always the problem. That was always been a dark cloud that's always hovered above us. We got dropped briefly for four days before Do You Want More?!!!??! came out. It's always been a tug-of-war situation. Even from the very beginning, even before you knew who we were, we were that passionate about our work where every day was like that.

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