To close out the 2016 installment of the South By Southwest Music Festival, The Roots headlined a special event at the branded Bud Light Factory venue. This event dubbed “The Roots SXSW Jam” promised an appearance from Big Grams and special guests. The Roots have done mega jams at many points in their career, frequently doing so as part of the Grammy weekend as a special private event. Here, the event could’ve potentially gone any number of a million ways, as literally dozens of different artists present at the SXSW festival either have worked with The Roots or come from branches of music The Roots themselves are fond of.
The band opened with a modified take on “Express Yourself” (mixing both N.W.A. and Charles Wright’s versions together). With some minor exceptions, each song afterwards were with The Roots as a backing band for the special guests. The first guests were X Ambassadors. They played their own songs “Renegades” and “Jungle” along with a killer cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me.” Newcomer Tish Hyman came next playing a couple of her own songs including “Subway Art.” Marc E. Bassy came next doing a modified cover of Radiohead’s “High ‘n’ Dry.” After R&B artist Emily King played a trifecta of songs, West Coast rap innovator Too Short followed playing cuts “Blow the Whistle” and “I Don’t Stop Rappin’.”
The one derivation in format came with The Roots leaving the stage to allow Big Grams to take the stage. A collaborative project featuring Big Boi and Phantogram, Big Grams practically stole the show. Even though the group only has one seven-song EP to their name, just about every track played like a seminal hit. The songs “Run For Your Life,” “Lights On,” “Fell in the Sun,” “Put it on Her,” “Goldmine Junkie” and “Drum Machine” all sparked the crowd dance happily, and their modified take on Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” prompted a massive singalong. Big Boi left temporarily to allow Phantogram to play two of their own songs “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Fall in Love” with The Roots returning as backing band.
Big Boi then returned to perform “ATLiens” and crowd-pleaser “The Way You Move” from Outkast’s catalog. Veteran rapper Talib Kweli followed playing his very best song “Get By.” 90’s R&B star Ashanti was the late surprise playing her hits “Only U,” as well as “What’s Luv,” “Foolish” and a new song. Finally 90’s rappers Naughty By Nature came out to perform their big hits “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop Hooray.” The Roots closed out the set themselves playing an escalating funk jam allowing emcee Black Thought to do nearly 10 minutes of rapid-fire rhymes. Each time it appeared he was finished he would sing, “Can you dig it?” enunciating each word and then the band would snap back into the melody.
All photos by Raymond Flotat