The Roots Plotting 'Orchestral' New Album
The Roots Ben Watts

For the follow-up to the Roots' 2010 album, "How I Got Over," drummer ?uestlove says the veteran hip-hop band is planning a "concept album" with orchestral arrangements.

"This is going to be our first full-fledged narrative concept album," ?uestlove told Billboard.com at New York's Buddakan, where he and frontman Black Thought hosted an event Wednesday to promote two upcoming events in their hometown of Philadelphia: this Saturday's (June 4) Roots Picnic festival, and Philly's Fourth of July Jam. "It's going to be a challenge to figure out how to get from point A to B -- or in this case, point B to point A," he hinted, "and have it seem natural."

Black Thought added that conceptually, the album will stem from the "same idea" as "How I Got Over," but "kind of flipped. Instead of from dark to light, it's an album that goes from light to dark," he explained.

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Two song sketches have been composed thus far, ?uestlove said, and just this week the group had its first official meeting about the "unusual spelling" of the album's title, which they're keeping under wraps for now. "It's a one-word title that's spelled incorrectly...what a way to tease you, right?" he laughed.

As for the sound of the album, ?uestlove said, "It's going to be heavy on sort of orchestral chamber music with harder beats in it," inspired by a recent collaborative performance that the drummer did in April for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. "I did this project called the Philly-Paris Lockown, which was sort of a period of French music from Debussy to Satie and Stravinsky...it was almost like the dawning of jazz in the early 1900s," he said of the performance, which also featured 18 classical musicians and French singer/songwriter Keren Ann.

While Black Thought said the Roots hope to have their new album out by this fall, he acknowledged that a 2012 release is more likely. "In a perfect world it would come out in November, but in this world that we live in, maybe January? Maybe February?" he laughed. "I don't know, but hopefully it's gonna be in a timely fashion."

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In the meantime, the Roots have plenty to keep them busy. The group lined up a genre-spanning list of acts for its fourth annual Roots Picnic, including Nas, Esperanza Spalding, Wiz Khalifa, Yelawolf, Mac Miller, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and more. ?uestlove is especially excited for his sister, Donn T, to make her debut on the fest's second stage, as well as Little Dragon, whom he calls an "extreme favorite of mine," and the Dismemberment Plan. "They set ["Late Night with Jimmy Fallon"] on fire when they reunited for the show, and I hope they put that same energetic performance on for us," he said.


"It's something we always wanted to do," Black Thought said of the Picnic, which is now its in fourth year. "Having been a part of so many festival tours like Lollapalooza and Smokin' Grooves -- with the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill, and the whole genre mixing thing that used to go on back in the '90s and early '00s -- we always wanted to bring that element to Philly, to bring it home." And although the Roots will be performing at Philly's 4th of July Jam for the third time, the MC added that they're particularly looking forward to this year's event because "it's our first time as the official curators." Among the acts they've picked to perform: Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael McDonald, Estelle and Sara Bareilles.

"It's become a festival now," he said. "It's super exciting."

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