"If hip-hop is dead, then let it rest in peace and let's move on to something else," said Black Thought, the smart rapper and sometimes-aloof mouthpiece for the hip-hop band the Roots. He and the other eight members of the Philadelphia collective brought their musically sprawling show to the Lyric Opera House on Thursday night. For nearly two hours, they celebrated the dead (James Brown) and dying (the artistic relevance of hip-hop). But it wasn't clear what they thought the "next movement" will be.
The funereal air of the show was, in a way, an extension of the darkness that informs the Roots' latest album, the brilliant but heavy Game Theory. With the recent death of one of the band's close associates, hip-hop producer J Dilla, and with the artistry of the culture on life support these days, the mournful air was understandable. But the band, which included the sharp four-piece Philly horn section Brass Heaven, managed to infuse the show with a celebratory vibe.
After an energetic opening by rapper Lupe Fiasco (who sounds more nasal live than on his impressive debut, last year's Food & Liquor), the Roots filed in from the rear of the packed house like a New Orleans funeral procession, tuba player and all. But as the guys took the stage, the funky stomp they were playing while walking in picked up the choppily syncopated drumming of the Roots' focal point, the gloriously Afro'd Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson. And from there, the sounds became chameleonic, the textures abruptly shifting throughout the show.