From the start, the Roots were an anomaly: a rap group that uses live instruments in lieu of samples and turntables. In the '90s, as hip-hop became flashier and the genre's biggest hits mostly glorified American pathologies - ruthless violence and gross consumerism - the nine-piece Philly unit became more earnestly political.
Over the course of 18 years, the Roots, who play Pier Six Pavilion tonight, have remained anomalous. Save for two gold albums - 1999's Things Fall Apart, which contained the Grammy-winning "You Got Me," featuring Erykah Badu, and 2003's Phrenology - the band has never had a true smash. Yet the group has amassed a sizable international fan base.