The Roots: America’s Band

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OK, Grantlanders. Pop quiz!

But with a twist: We’ll provide the multiple choice answers (a la Jeopardy!) and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out the correct question.

Looks like this:

a. The Beatles
b. The Beach Boys
c. Nirvana
d. Coldplay
e. The Rolling Stones
f. Jeez, are our music sensibilities still colonized by the Brits?
g. The Roots

The answer is: “g. The Roots.”


[tune of the Grantland Theme Song plays in background]

OK. Sorry, I forgot to mention the timer, but: Time’s up!

The question is — Questlove drum roll, wait for it — Who is America’s Band???

Hmm, I feel a bit deflated. Is that not a sexy enough question? Maybe: Who is most likely to influence the next presidential vote? Or: Who is least likely to follow Lindsay Lohan in being featured nude on the pages of Playboy?

Look, never mind nude Lindsay Lohan! The point for me is that I’m an American. And dadgummit, I want to know which band is representing me as an American in 2011. And surfing on the wave of critical acclaim for their latest album Undun, I think it’s high time to big up The Roots as “America’s Band.”

I know what you’re thinking. Actually, I have no idea. But among the infinitude of thoughts might be the stray notion that technically, yes, there’s no such thing as “America’s Band.” You’ve Googled, and there’s no reality show. No Twitter account. No Tumblr. The Facebook page doesn’t exist. Nada, zero, zilch. Only a 404 error message and you have no idea what to click on.

It’s also possible, being that your brain is such a dominant beast of thinkerly thinking, that in close proximity to the previous brain flash you’re now wondering how, in a variety of ways, this Q&A lacks logical consistency. In search of America’s band we have old bands, new bands, non-American bands? Also missing are all the rest of the bands? What are the rules? I don’t know the rules! I only know the answers. But in search of the best question, here’s four primary lines of argument to focus on:

The Generational Argument: This allows us to scratch off The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, etc. and move on with our lives!

The Genre Argument: Rock music is no longer the centerpiece of the music conversation. This is in some ways an old, outdated argument, but then again there’s the recent GQ’s “Gods of Rock” co-opting Wayne, Em, Badu, and of course there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of our most distinguished musical honors. That’s racist! (Just kidding.) This argument doesn’t scratch any band off the list, but it does mute the immediate reflex to say “Nirvana!” or “Radiohead!” (Brits in our head, man.)

The Indisputable Argument: The Roots are the only indisputable “best band” in an influential genre of music. Even if rock were still the soundtrack to everything American (sorry, Bruce!), we would still have to argue over The Black Keys vs. Foo Fighters vs. St. Vincent vs. The National, etc. (tie between Black Keys and St. Vincent, btw). This goes for country music, which I’m less familiar with so I won’t embarrass myself. But I am familiar with the fact that if someone is comfortable with a hip-hop band being representative, then The Roots are the only choice to be that band. They are also the only band that can cross platforms to respectfully cover popular songs from other genres, while most rock or country bands will strain to cover Kanye or Jay-Z or Drake with the same sincerity.

The 2011 America Argument: The Roots represent “how we live now.” When The Roots joined Fallon for Late Night, folks still used the term “sellout.” Now that’s a quaint, old-fogey notion from a time when your career represented “you” as a person. Now your Facebook page or Twitter feed does the selling out, and every job is just another “gig,” whether you’re a blogger, rapper, or financial consultant to the subhuman demons on Wall Street. Throw in Quest’s fluency with Twitterese, and generally avid use of social media (even breaking some Occupy Wall Street news), and add a pinch of their newfound political prankishness and you have a band that represents America in a way that runs deeper than sales and digital downloads.

Heretoforewith: I pledge allegiance to The Roots of the United States of America, and to the music for which they stand, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice and hot beats and rhymes for all. Amen!

Patrice Evans is a Grantland staff writer. Check out his (excellent) book Negropedia: The Assimilated Negro’s Crash Course on the Modern Black Experience.

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Filed Under: Hip Hop-Ology, Questlove, The Roots