Week after dreadful week of bands on late night made me stop and reconsider the point of writing all those TubaTV “Music on Television” posts. But sure enough, as soon as I stopped, I missed not one but two brilliant performances by this year’s comeback kid – the (occasionally) Mighty Mos Def – who dropped his latest, The Ecstatic, earlier this week. On Fallon, Mos teamed up with The Roots on his Banda Black Rio-inspired closer, “Casa Bey.”
And on Letterman, Mos lugged out his two tympanies for a tight performance of “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” (with some blessings from Fela).
So, Jimmy Fallon is now three weeks into Late Night, and at the risk of sounding like a total NBC-shill, I’m gonna go out and say that Jimmy will land on his feet just fine. In spite of the painfully awkward monologues (can we just do away with them?), in spite of the constant sycophantry, dude will blow out the other 12:30ers. And the reason’s none other than The Legendary Roots Crew.
Look: Like everyone else, I was shocked, disheartened, gutted, etc, that ?uestlove & co., who’d put out two of their darkest, most politically melancholic albums in the last couple years, would risk all their cred to slow jam to some pasty SNL grad’s thoughts on AIG. (Remember when Winston Marsalis took the Leno job, and left, tired of being “Rochester to Jack Benny“? Remember when Kevin Eubanks was actually a guitarist? Can’t say I do). Hamilton Nolan at Gawker puts it this way: “Black Thought opening for Jimmy Fallon every night is the cultural equivalent of Miles Davis playing his horn on the subway platform to back up a semi-trained dancing spider monkey.” It hurts, man. A real bad.
But one of the benefits of The Roots on network TV is their pull in bringing Hip Hop back to late night, which aside from occasional stints on the Letterman-Leno circuit, hasn’t really been a presence since the days of the Jon Stewart Show (first place I saw Biggie perform), and In Living Color. I mean, bringing out Public Enemy to Bring the Noise? Damn.
Does that help me redeem my image of Flava Flav after VH1 did its best to minstrelize a legend? A little. Does it erase the horrible memory of seeing The Roots play back up to Deuce Bigalow? Not yet, man; not yet. They’d have to reunite Pete Rock and CL, for that.