Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought of The Roots, is going the distance.

The distance of his GrassROOTS “Roots Rock Run 5k” race, that is, which takes place. Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Anna Lane Lingelbach school on Wayne Avenue prior to the start of the annual Roots Picnic at Festival Pier.

“I’ll definitely begin with a bang,” Trotter says. “I may not finish first, 10th or 20th, but I’m going to finish. It’s important to set a standard of health and fitness that has the potential to influence the community. That’s what I do.”

The Roots — Philly natives, of course — certainly have a wide range of influences, thanks to the band’s nightly duties on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.” The guys often perform skits on the show — Trotter recently delivered a breakdown rap about “Game of Thrones” — and often play with the evening’s musical guests.

“You never feel like more of a credible, established professional musician than at the times that you’re blessed enough to interact with the likes of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen or Elton John,” Trotter says. “There’s no time more than those occasions when I feel like we’ve arrived.”

It comes back to Philly for the Roots, who were formed more than 25 years ago by Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.  

Thompson recently DJed at Silk City on Spring Garden in a revival of the long-running Tastytreats party and Trotter serves on the boards of multiple groups in town, including the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Both are involved in the CAPA Foundation, which raises money for their former high school. 

“This is stuff that we do before New York, after New York,” Trotter says. “Philadelphia always comes first. We could be broadcasting ‘The Tonight Show’ from Dubai every day and we’d still be The Roots band from Philly.”


This year’s Roots Picnic features hot acts like the Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and Rae Sremmurd, legacy artists Afrika Bambaataa and Erykah Badu, who will be backed by The Roots, and local stars King Britt, Brianna Cash and Donn T, aka Thompson’s sis.

The Roots are heroes to the young hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd, whose hits include “No Type” and “No Flex Zone.”

“It was harder back then for African Americans to get on TV, and they did it, so it’s crazy,” says Khalif “Swae Lee” Brown, who composes Rae Sremmurd with his brother, Aaquil “Slim Jimmi” Brown. “The Roots are legends.”

Busy legends who are not standing still. They guys are working a new Roots album and a new Trotter solo album, too.

“We definitely keep busy with speaking engagements, hosting events, family life,” Trotter says. “This is all that we do that takes place outside of the 44 weeks per year that we’re on five days a week of doing ‘The Tonight Show.’“


Roots Picnic
Saturday, 11 a.m. 
Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing
Columbus Boulevard and Spring Garden Street
Sold out