A love letter to the Roots, from Stereogum:
When the news broke that the Roots had signed on to be Jimmy Fallon’s house band on Late Night, it seemed like an odd pairing (this was before Fallon had proved his hip-hop bona fides and everyone thought of him as the guy who laughed too much on SNL) and possibly a gesture of defeat (here was a hard-touring original band leaving the road to play standards on late-night TV). I wondered if Black Thought, the group’s lead MC, was going to have anything to do in a TV show’s house band. I questioned whether they would be able to keep ties with Philadelphia, the city that spawned them. I worried that the Roots, after being conceptually marginalized in hip-hop, were literally sidelining themselves from the music business. At least they’d be getting paid, I figured.
Thankfully, the Roots and Fallon were a perfect match. He turned out to be a song-and-dance man with a youthful appreciation for music, and the Roots were goofier and better versed in comedy than anybody realized at the time. (Anecdote #17 here, with its references to human pyramids and Lorne Michaels trivia, is illuminating.) Rather than a death knell for the band, their gig on Late Night was revitalizing. Instead of falling into the jazzy/bloozy big band mold that had become the industry standard, they reinvented the the late-night house band into something forward-thinking and interactive. They wouldn’t be window dressing; they’d be an integral part of the show, combining with Fallon on musical comedy bits and collaborating with musicians of all sorts. Over five years, they became so essential to Fallon’s operation that when word came that he would be taking over The Tonight Show, the thought of him moving to L.A. and carrying on without his musical sidekicks was deflating. Fortunately, NBC was smart enough not to mess with a good thing; they moved The Tonight Show to New York and kept the Roots on board.