Cult hip-hop band the Roots struggle at new label

Mon Apr 28, 2008 1:49am EDT
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By Hillary Crosley

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Philadelphia's hip-hop collective the Roots are off to a rough start at their new label.

After seven studio albums with MCA and Geffen, they signed to Def Jam in 2006 at the behest of then-label president Jay-Z. However, since Jay-Z's departure last December, things have been a bit more difficult.

In an effort to please Def Jam executives with a radio single, drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson says the group presented the pop-leaning "Birthday Girl" featuring Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump. Label staffers praised the track, but fans panned it, and the tune was stripped from the U.S. version of their new album, "Rising Down."

The set is book-ended by a 1994 conversation where the members vent their frustration about not garnering the attention they expected from MCA. Thompson says the snippets show that their Def Jam predicament isn't the first time the Roots have "been mired in some sort of label battle."

He says the group operates far below the radar of Island Def Jam chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid.

"He has no idea that 'Birthday Girl' isn't even on the album," Thompson says. "They don't know we shot the 'Rising Down' video. They just know they approved an (electronic press kit) budget."

Reid had no comment. However, Def Jam marketing director Erica Holley says plenty of initiatives are in the pipeline to promote "Rising Down."

Despite a decade of critical acclaim, the Roots have never sold more than 906,000 units of any album (with 1999's "Things Fall Apart"), according to Nielsen SoundScan. Their last album, 2006's "Game Theory," stalled at 204,000 copies.   Continued...

<p>The Roots arrives at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York October 7, 2006. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>