The irony in the release of the “Home Grown!” compilations is that it may feel bitter sweet for The Roots, their leader, ?uestlove, and their dedicated fan base. After years of quibbling with Geffen, which offered notoriously-poor support and promotion to the live Hip Hop act, the label finally agreed to release these discs, subsequently satisfying The Roots’ contractual obligation, and making them free agents in the process. The Roots then signed on with ?uestlove’s buddy Jay-Z, who happens to be the president of Def Jam Records. Unsubstantiated gossip is still running rampant that Mr. Carter will in fact charter an imprint of alternative artists called Def Jam Left, headed of course by The Roots, though nothing is official.
The idea of a Roots greatest hits disc sounds good on paper, but that’s not supposed to be the intention here. As the title says it’s a beginner’s guide to understanding The Roots. Any of us who have tried (usually in futility) to put someone on to The Roots knows it’s a damn near impossible task:
“Recommend me some of their best tracks.”
That’s not to say The Roots haven’t produced some classic tracks, because they have. But all pretensions aside, a Roots album (like their inspiring live shows) is an experience unto itself and meant to be listened to as such. And as “Volume One” plays out, it becomes more evident that The Roots of “Organix” and “Do You Want More??!!” barely even resemble The Roots of “The Tipping Point,” perhaps making the job even more difficult.
The truth is, although the title might indicate otherwise, that the “Home Grown!” discs are actually a gift to the die hard Roots fans – those who have spent small fortunes on the live shows or paid out the nose for an original copy of the now out-of-print “Organix.” There are some rarities, remixes, and live cuts here to tease those who hunger to hear more of The Roots’ now-legendary vaults, which allegedly includes dozens of tracks for every album that don’t make the final cut. ?uestlove even gets his ramble on. A new fan might confuse his now infamous cryptic liner notes – which are here, chock-full of quirky anecdotes – for hieroglyphics.
The backbone of this disc and of course The Roots is that they make great music and nearly every track’s inclusion on “Volume One” is warranted. Not surprisingly “Things Fall Apart,” the group’s most successful full-length release to date, is well-represented here, with the Roots classics “Act Too (Love of My Life),” “Double Trouble,” “The Next Movement,” and of course an alternate version of fan favorite “You Got Me,” featuring the sweet vocals of songstress Jill Scott. Scott originally co-penned the song but label politics saw to it that bigger-name Erykah Badu appeared on the album version.. Even the earlier hits like “Clones,” “What They Do” (which is probably one of the best music videos ever), and “Distortion to Static” are all here, as well as later cuts like “Star” from “The Tipping Point” (who says a live hip hop act can’t sample?!).
You could almost certainly listen to a better compiled list of Roots tracks – namely all of their official releases – but “Home Grown!” offers the best shot at picking out a sure shot winner. “Things Fall Apart” is probably a safer bet for beginner Roots fans to start with than nearly overwhelming ambition of “Home Grown!” but that probably won’t help them understand The Roots any more or less than they already would have. They’ll either get them, or they won’t.