In The Moment Anatomy of a Roots Jam Session

by the editorial team at Citi | February 14, 2019

“A Roots Jam Session is always a journey…I’ve come to expect the unexpected.”

That’s Black Thought, speaking backstage at the 2019 Citi Sound Vault. The rapper and MC, along with drummer Questlove, co-founded the renowned Philadelphia-based hip-hop group The Roots in 1987.

The Roots’ history of hosting and performing Jam Sessions goes back roughly 25 years, Black Thought says, and the goal has always been to give well-known and emerging artists alike a space to play that felt looser and more open to possibilities. Numerous venues have played host to Roots Jam Sessions in that time, and the shows have given a platform to an array of talent, from up-and-coming artists to live instrumental acts to brash MCs.

Life and Money by Citi sat down with Black Thought (born Tariq Trotter) for an exclusive conversation on what makes the band’s Jam Sessions — and particularly, their series with Citi Sound Vault — so special. View the video post on Instagram

Tux optional

By launching Jam Sessions that coincide with the biggest week in music, the band’s intention was to create a space for “people who didn’t feel like putting on a tuxedo,” he explains, but still wanted to go out and enjoy live music from artists under consideration for the industry’s most prestigious awards.

A more connected performance

When playing in an intimate setting, Black Thought says, artist and audience are more in sync. “I’m able to see into far more people’s eyes and vice versa; it makes for a more visceral connection.” Better yet, the musical gap between listener and performer falls away. “I’m able to appreciate, sonically, what the audience is getting at the same time,” he explains. “I get a little bit of the house [speakers], because I’m in the house, but also get what I’m hearing in my monitors.”

Black Thought of the Roots performing on stage at Citi Sound Vault concert

Hope restored

For those lucky enough to get that coveted ticket to a Roots Jam Session, “I want their hope in music, and live musicianship, to have been restored,” Black Thought says. Perhaps betraying a competitive streak, he adds, “I want to have raised the bar in the mind of our audience for whoever is the next performer they’re going to see.

“I want the standard to have been elevated.”