“It's gonna be our darkest, craziest record since Phrenology or Illadelph Halflife,” drummer and producer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson explained to MTV recently. “This is a dirty, dirty record — a raw-sounding record.” Long known for its eccentric but consistently edgy and provocative blend of live hip-hop, funk and retro-psychedelic soul, The Roots has finally found a home with Def Jam, the label that inspired the youthful dreams of the band's two founders. “Me and Black Thought used to sit in lunch making our album covers,” ?uest says, recalling his high school days in Philly with Roots lead vocalist Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. “We would put the Def Jam logo on the bottom. That was the pipe dream.” With the band's recent signing by Def Jam president Jay-Z, the dream has suddenly become reality.
Game Theory (due February or March 2006), the inaugural release on Jay's Def Jam Left imprint, is purported to be a 15-track juggernaut of undistilled hip-hop, with guests as diverse as Mos Def (“Workin' on It”); Talib Kweli (“Where I Come,” with Mos Def); New York rhyme and mixtape specialist Saigon; and, rumor has it, former U.S. president and Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter. The assembly of such an elite crew would seem to guarantee a verse or two from Jay-Z himself, but ?uest has been mum about the possibility. “Does being on Def Jam mean you'll get a free Hova verse?” he hints, chuckling. “I don't know. We'll see what's up.”