October 3, 1971
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
PhotosView All (2)
Tariq Trotter was born in inner-city South Philadelphia. His father, Tom Trotter, was a devout member of the Nation of Islam as well as a member of a criminal organization known as Philadelphia's "Black Mafia," tied to auto theft, extortion and drug dealing, among other crimes. The elder Trotter was murdered in a gangland execution in 1973. Living with his Muslim mother (who was herself a member of the Black Mafia) during the week and his Christian grandmother on weekends, Trotter had a troubled childhood marked by violence and despair, with an older brother who spent more than half his life in prison. But he was also well educated in private schools, and showed promise as a visual artist.This artistic ability brought him to the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, which he entered as a Freshman in the fall of 1987, and nearly left on his second day of classes when a teacher found him in one of the school's washrooms in a compromising position with one of the female dance students. Sitting next to him on the bench in the principal's office was a Junior named Ahmir Thompson, a drummer in the school's music department who was waiting to buy some bus tokens. The pair fell into conversation and bonded over a mutual love of hip-hop, which at the jazz-centric school --Thompson's classmates included organist Joey DeFranceso, who interrupted his senior year to tour with Miles Davis -- was something of an outlaw taste. Trotter had already developed an ability to freestyle rap on any subject thrown his way, and was soon pestering Thompson to create beats and loops to back his rhymes. Inspired by a Spike Lee-directed TV commercial featuring a drummer playing on buckets on a city street, Trotter and Thompson began busking on Philadelphia's South Street, picking up the respective handles Black Thought and Questlove in the process. After tragedy struck Trotter's young life once more during this period -- his mother was abducted, raped and murdered -- The Roots became his primary means of artistic and social expression. In the 1990s and 2000s, The Roots were rarely a commercial powerhouse, but they became cult favorites by combining live instrumentation heavily influenced by vintage jazz and soul with Trotter's socially conscious but streetwise rhymes. The group also toured regularly, becoming a fearsome live act that interpolated bits of old-school hip-hop favorites, soul and rock classics and current pop hits into their own material. In the 2000s, Trotter also experimented with acting, beginning with small roles in Spike Lee's race satire "Bamboozled" (2000). His first prominent roles came in the post-9/11 drama "Love Rome" (2004) and the social drama "Explicit Ills" (2008), starring Rosario Dawson. Supporting roles in the 1970s-set indie drama "Night Catches Us" (2010), the Gabourey Sidibe vehicle "Yelling To The Sky" (2011) and the psychiatric hospital-set thriller "On the Inside" (2011) followed. In 2009, The Roots took on a new role as house band on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (NBC 2009-2014). The band originally took the job out of a combination of frustration with the collapse of the music industry and a desire to stop touring; Trotter was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, with whom he had a young daughter, and many of the other band members had also settled down. But The Roots quickly discovered that their showmanship made them an integral part of the show. Trotter's lifelong ability to improvise raps made the audience-participation segment "Freestylin' With The Roots" a favorite recurring segment. Another recurring sketch, "Shout Outs," dressed him as a morning talk show host doing a cooking segment, complete with a curly blonde toupee over his shaved dome. (A dedicated vegan, Trotter rarely contained his disgust at the processed foods he had to work with in this routine.) The series also revitalized The Roots' musical career, bringing commercial and critical attention to their albums "How I Got Over"