The Friday Morning Listen: The Roots – The Roots Come Alive (1999)

Ah, the year’s end approaches and I’m sitting here thinking about coming up with some cohesive statement about the 365 days gone by. Or rather, I’m actually at a remove…thinking about the person in his chair who’s struggling to figure out what goes in box. The truth is, that person is very, very tired. By the events of the year? A little. Mostly, it was the event of the day: having to shovel eight inches of snow off his long-ass driveway because the “service” company up the street has spent the better part of the last month not fixing his snow blower. Is that a first-world problem? It might well be, but this 50-something has no business being out in a storm scraping frozen crud off the ground.

So the person being observed wasn’t really struggling with a year-end topic. He was instead reading through the incredibly entertaining article Questlove’s Top 50 Hip-Hop Songs Of All Time. It’s great read for all of the reasons usually associated with Questlove: it’s funny, knowing, and erudite. From anecdotes about the debut of “Rapper’s Delight” on Philly radio (“It was like our version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds“) to a terrific summation of “Fight The Power” (“…it sounded like Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk had gotten into a knife fight”), Questlove shows not only how much he knows about the music world (a ton) and hip-hop’s place in it, but also how he was shaped by the music…and how much he loves it all.

One thing that struck me as I paged through the mini-essays was that I was only familiar with about a third of the songs. My first exposure to hip-hop, I’m thinking, was probably not “Rapper’s Delight” but Blondie’s “Rapture.” Being a “One Way Or Another”-kind of guy, the song confused me. Where the heck did that come from? Well, no matter. When I was slapped upside the head with Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” I knew that further investigation was necessary.

And that’s something I want to do in the coming year. Explore the unfamiliar parts of Questlove’s list…explore more new stuff in general. Face it kiddies, it’s a big ‘ole world out there. If you allow your curiosity to dry up, what’s the point?

By the way, if you are curious, an enterprising fan recreated Questlove’s playlist in Spotify. It’s only missing a few entries due to contractual hooey.

Oh, and Happy (almost) New Year!

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.