Being up for a new challenge is how Roots drummer ?uestlove explains the act’s involvement with the first VH1 Hip-Hop Honors tour, which kicks off Sept. 13 in San Francisco.
“This is a hip-hop celebration,” ?uestlove tells Billboard.com. “I’m going to take the biggest risk I’ve ever taken on any tour. I’m going to make this a Roots song-free tour. We’re going to rely on the classics that our guests are giving us, and we’re also going to cover some classic material and do some new routines that we’ve never done before.
“A Roots show isn’t really a Roots show unless half the audience walks away shocked like, ‘Oh (expletive), I wasn’t expecting that.’ So the onus is, how do you rock a two-and-a-half-hour show and not rely on one of your songs?”
Basically an expansion of the Roots’ normal in-concert medley dubbed “Hip-Hop 101,” which includes snippets of rap classics, the upcoming tour will feature the Philadelphia-based act, MC Lyte and Big Daddy Kane. The set list includes songs from legends such as Special Ed, Wu-Tang Clan, Biz Markie, Public Enemy and more.
“Kind of like the ‘Scream Tour’ was for the black tweeners, we want the ‘VH1 Hip Hop Honors’ tour to sort of be our platform,” ?uestlove says. “We’ll have special guests come and rock with us. This year is sort of like a testing period. We’re only doing a month’s worth of dates.”
?uestlove says he expects a full-blown tour to be booked next year. Also in the mix for the drummer is the completion of a new Al Green album later this year. As a producer, ?uestlove says he views the project as a follow-up to the legendary R&B and soul singer’s 1977 release “The Belle Album.”
In addition, the Roots’ tenth studio album, “Rising Down,” is penciled in for an April 29, 2008 release. Songs in the mix are the Afrobeat-leaning “I Will Not Apologize” and the pop-ish “Birthday Girl.”
“We’re about 60 percent finished,” ?uestlove says. “To me, it’s an electronic feel. It’s not synthetic all of the way, like with drum machines and synths, but as far as our keyboard textures are concerned, we use a lot of old vintage synthesizer sounds. It’s something we haven’t done on past Roots records.”