The Moment: The Roots, The LayUp
The Original Roots Crew
I first met The Roots (Questlove) with Butterfly and Doodlebug of Digable Planets.
One random Friday afternoon, I was with Digable while they were working on their album, “Blowout Comb.” Butterfly asked me if I wanted to join them at a party later that evening in Philly. He and Doodlebug had planned on taking the train from NYC.
I didn’t answer at first. Being asked to go somewhere with an artist was not normal. As a photographer, I think artists expected me to already know what’s going on and assumed I would always have access to get into the event.
After Digable wrapped up recording for the week, Butterfly asked again if I wanted to go to the party in Philly. I said, “Sure, I’ll drive, I just need to drop off some of my bags back in New Brunswick (New Jersey) on the way.”
The drive into New Brunswick was on our route, so it worked out for everyone.
When we got into New Brunswick, we made a quick stop at my then favorite local bar, “The Bowl-O-Drome.” I caught up with a few friends over a beer, and Butterfly liked the vibe of the place. People at the bar were shocked to see Butterfly of the Digable Planets, at the height of their career, hanging out at a local bar in New Brunswick).
Butterfly was cool with people approaching and saying hello. Back in 1994, there was no online culture or pre-defining social gatherings. People actually talked to people they didn’t know, and it wasn’t just for taking a selfie to share online.
After we left New Brunswick, our next stop was the party at Silk City. DJ King Brit, one of the Digable Planets touring Djs, was DJing. When Butterfly and I arrived, DoodleBug immediately spotted us and said hello.
We walked around the party together. They introduced me to a lot of people. For Doodlebug, this was his hometown, and he knew everyone. They made a point of introducing me to QuestLove. We got to know each other. Soon enough Quest, myself, and two others walked to the dinner connected with the club so I could hear more about his group. After we left the dinner, I ended up giving Quest a ride home, and when we arrived at his house he gave me two demo tapes to check out.
On my drive back to Jersey I remember listening to the demo (some songs from Do You Want More). I was amazed at the sound quality and its layering. It was like nothing I had heard in a long time. There were elements of sonic that had been lost in quality hiphop of the day.
A few months later, The Roots began playing a regular gig for Giant Step at the Supper Club in Midtown Manhattan. Their sound and showmanship quickly made casual listeners into fans, and they built a following in New York City.
During that time (1994), The Roots had been signed to Geffen Records' newly formed Black Music department with their label mate, Genius (GZA) of the WuTang Clan. As their album release date came near, the public relations team for Geffen Records reached out to me and asked if I wanted to shoot their official publicity shot that would be used in promoting the band and their first album.
Of course I said yes. I loved their music and knew there was something special about them. The band wanted their publicity image shot in front of their favorite store, The LayUp, in Center City Philadelphia.
We agreed on a day and time and I drove from New Brunswick to Philadelphia. I arrived early and waited for the band to arrive. QuestLove and Black Thought were the first band members to show, followed by Hub (bass player) and Malik B. (co-MC).
Once all the guys arrived at the store, it only took a few minutes to capture the shot.