Few hip-hop acts make the promise of extensive new liner notes into a viable, or even sane, commercial hook for a new release. But ?uestlove and The Roots have always been anomalies. ?uestlove's writing has rightfully won a cult following all its own by combining the irreverent humor and snappy prose of a smart-ass blogger with the encyclopedic knowledge of a pop-music historian and the invaluable insight that can only be gleaned by someone at the forefront of influential new movements. ?uestlove's heavily advertised liner notes for the wonderful new two-volume Roots hits, rarities, and outtakes collection Home Grown! provide a riveting account of the late-'90s conscious-rap and neo-soul renaissance from the inside out. With candor and wit, ?uestlove compellingly documents The Roots' creative and commercial evolution, offering a particularly revealing look at the way commercial calculation shapes even albums by revered groups. For example, there's a harrowing account of how The Tipping Point's sound was perhaps unduly influenced by the whims of a clueless label head who thought the album sounded "old," but went nuts over the stripped-down, Scott Storch-produced "Don't Say Nuthin'." Sure enough, the group went back to refashion the album in the ostensibly commercial image of "Don't Say Nuthin'," and ended up disappointing fans, critics, and Geffen bean-counters alike.
Because the Roots constantly rework their material in concert and embrace endless experimentation both onstage and in the studio, these super-sized (nearly 80 minutes apiece) new compilations are able to dig deep into the group's massive archives. The live versions of familiar tracks like "Sacrifice," "You Got Me," and the aforementioned "Don't Say Nuthin'" are retooled so extensively that they barely resemble the album takes. And because The Roots maintain such high standards and rigid quality control, many of the leftovers, rarities, and outtakes included here could easily pass as the greatest hits of another act. While the group is prone to extended jamming in concert, there's a surprising and welcome lack of self-indulgence here, although perhaps as a wry comment on the group's jam-band tendencies, the second disc ends with a relaxed 15-minute medley followed by an extended drum solo. Like The Roots, the Home Grown! compilations are brilliant anomalies, essential collections of audio odds and ends that flow together as smoothly and cohesively as any of the group's albums.