After successfully launching the Bud Light x The Roots & Friends Jam Session at SXSW last year, the legendary hip-hop band returned to Austin, Tex. for their 2017 iteration with even more confidence and more special and surprise guests.
While there was no telling how the night would go—which included a special performance of "Johnny B. Goode" to tribute Chuck Berry who died just hours before the session began—Roots co-founder and singer-rapper Black Thought talked to Fuse about the key elements to a perfect jam, what projects are ahead for the Tonight Show band, and much more.
Fuse: You're here for a second time with your Bud Light SXSW Jam Session. How do you think the first one went and how did that affect this one?
Black Thought: The first one was epic, in my opinion. What I learned from it was that there's a good energy in this city, at this festival, and in the chemistry between The Roots and Bud Light. It works. It wasn't our first time working with Bud Light, but it was the first time that we had taken it here, and you never know how it's going to work out until it's happened. I think it worked pretty well and it laid the foundation for something that could become a staple here and something that people could look forward for years to come. This isn't our first jam session, or only jam session by a long shot, but the way it happens here is unique.
“We laid the foundation for something that could become a staple here.”
SXSW feels like a unique place not only for fans to discover new music, but for artists to try new things too.
SXSW has been traditionally and continues to be a place for artists to be fearless. If there's some material or some style you've been kind of less than confident in premiering elsewhere, this is kind of the place to do it. I feel like the only sort of place, the type of mashup that we're going to present tonight, the type of mashup we played last year, it's the only sort of place where this can really thrive.
How is Bud Light as a partner for the mashup you're creating here?
Bud Light has been with us every step of the way, throughout the selection process just making sure, it almost goes without saying, but they want to make sure that the experience that we're putting together is on par with their brand. People really respect what we do as The Roots. People respect both brands and they feel they're going to be represented in the best light possible so it would behoove you as an artist to make it to The Roots' jam session. That's a great session. For some people that may not perform with live instrumentation, it's a dope chance to introduce yourself to a kind of a different audience, to experiment with a different sound, and see if you want to do something different with your stage.
You've worked with so many people at this point, but is there still someone on your bucket list to record or jam with?
Sade is always going to be on my bucket list. I'd love to do something where she sang a note on a Roots song. That would be dope. I've shared the stage with Springsteen, Bono, Sting, Billy Joel. I'd love to get any of those guys on a record, with an artist at that level.
Speaking of new records, there's long been talks about The Roots and Usher collaborating on a full album. What's the latest?
We've been performing a lot with Usher this past year and there's a lot more performances this year to come. If that will evolve into a studio record, I'm not sure, but I wouldn't doubt that. But even before you get a Roots x Usher record, you'll get a new Roots album.
What are you most excited for people to hear on the new Roots album?
I'm really excited for people to hear this one song that we did with Syd from The Internet. Questlove, Ray Angry and myself, we got a song that I'm pretty proud of. It's called "Pray for Me." Syd's dope.
What else is coming up?
I'm on a new HBO show, it's a show called The Deuce and it's going to premiere around September, I think. It's created by David Simon and George Pelecanos of The Wire fame and stars with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco. I play a pretty colorful role, his name is Reggie, it's a period piece in 1970's New York City. I'm excited about everything we have in the makings, but I'm really excited about the work that I did in that show. There's so much going on, but but I don't even know how tonight is going to go down. You never know 'til it's taking place. Those are who lucky enough to be here are going to be talking about it and those who are unlucky enough to have missed it are going to make sure to get here for the third annual.
So you're already thinking ahead to next year's show?
Absolutely. We start thinking about what we're going to do for the next time we come here to do this the moment we step off stage tonight.