Black Thought talks Roots Picnic, and this weekend’s epic lineup

Black Thought Roots Picnic
Ed Newton

Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson have – since 2008 – curated-and-played The Roots Picnic, dedicated to the very best that hip hop’s culture has to offer. Now on the grassy hills of the Mann at Fairmount Park, the Roots Picnic is a two-day affair — three days if you count the Questlove-led Roots Picnic Con at the Fillmore and Black Thought’s stand-up comedy night at Punchline — filled with the best of the old school and the new school.

This year’s lineup includes Lil Wayne playing with The Roots, local faves Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott, Black Thought’s freestyle set with Method Man and Redman, with additional chart toppers in Babyface, Andre 3000, Nas, Gunna, Sexxxy Red and more.

Black Thought recently sat down with Metro to discuss where The Roots Picnic is now, and what to expect this weekend.

The Roots Picnic was born after the band toured Europe and found festival culture – its diverse acts and attendees – amenable. Where do you think festival culture is, as of 2024, and how does the Roots Picnic fit into that landscape? 

My take on the current climate of festival culture is that a lot happened in a short period of time… It may have peaked at this point. We’re now experiencing post-peak. But there was a lot to choose from, with maybe a bit of overload. What separates Roots Picnic from the fold is that we do acknowledge from which it came, that European model, and touring around the world – an example set for us when we were road warriors. We brought that aesthetic and philosophy to the Picnic.

Black Thought Roots Picnic

The Roots Picnic continues to thrive due to its intimacy and artist-forward curation. And now — with your Delirious stand-up comedy and The Roots Picnic Con — Fridays are an everlasting addition.

The more we’re able to do in an authentic way means that other ecosystems are allowed to exist within ours. When we were smaller, we had to focus on one moment at a time. Spreading it out, we’re able to create a real presence across a number of days.  That additional night has become important, a staple, for kicking things off.

Mayor Cherelle Parker is going to be part of the Roots Picnic Con. Have you had time to speak with her?

Mayor Parker and I met briefly when she spoke at the dedication for my latest mural, “The Talented Mr. Trotter,” on N. American Street. She spoke so passionately, and quoted my lyrics. And that wasn’t the first time that I caught wind of her using my lyrics for reference. That said, she’s very powerful, I’m happy to see a woman in that seat, but it’s still early on to determine how everything’s going to play out for the city.

In the last few years, the Picnic has been bringing in more R&B flavor — Babyface, Victoria Monet, Fantasia — to go with its hip hop recipe.

My hope for the Picnic is that it would continue to expand, naturally, while remaining all-things-to-all-people. The Picnic needs to transcend interests and generations. We need to be the connective tissue that unifies folks. It’s been dope to see the Picnic grow from its small scale to where it is now.

That’s especially true hosting a slice of new Philly soul with Jill Scott and Marsha Ambrosius.

When I talk about servitude, both Marsha and Jill are there for it. And it’s a full-circle moment having them at the Picnic because they started from mud with us. They’re both 5 Spot alums and Black Lily alums – and were the main draw. The reason that our ancestors are legendary is because of vocalists such as Jill and Marsha, and her Jazzyfatnastees. Jill’s been here before when we did Things Fall Apart in its entirety, but this is her first solo Picnic performance – I couldn’t believe it.

Black Thought Roots Picnic

What is like having Nas as one of Roots Picnics’ headliners?

Nas rocked with us at Festival Pier as part of a Roots-focused performance — the start of our collaboration — this, too, is another first, Nas and a live band. Nas is a different rapper now. He’s become adaptive to that live band and released like 10 albums since. It’s going to be interesting now to see and hear his journey.

Another artist whose journey is worth looking into—Andre 3000—who’s gone from Southern hip hop to all-instrumental, flute-focused, free jazz.

I think people will appreciate it. There will definitely be a certain group in attendance who won’t necessarily understand (laughs), but will be entertained nonetheless.

Audiences always want your co-curated slice of Roots Picnic, your Mixtape thing, and whoever you choose to freestyle with — this time, Method Man and Redman.

Oh yeah. Method and Redman are no strangers to the Picnic and toward interacting with The Roots. They’re experts, real masters of their craft – I’m looking forward to this. With some artists, you might have to worry and be mindful of what they’ll say or do, and how we react, to get the performance back on track. With a team like Method Man and Redman, there’s no worry. They’re the ultimate safety net.

Despite Roots Picnic’s love of old school and pre-2000 hip hop, you have Sexxxy Red and Gunna, keeping up with hip hop’s future.

That’s always been a part of our endeavors – to serve as a platform. As part of the booking process, there’s always scrutiny. But we have a more inclusive POV in putting together the line-up. We have to give the people what they want.

The Roots Picnic takes place Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2, at The Mann in Fairmount Park. For information, a full schedule of performances, and tickets, visit