The Roots are hoping that their new "Undun," with its strong thematic and narrative string, will become more than just an album in the future.
"It's definitely a set-up for there to be something cinematic or theatrical," Roots co-founder Black Thought (aka Tariq Trotter) tells Billboard.com about the piece, in which a fictional street character named Redford Stephens looks back at the bleak life he led from the perspective of the Great Beyond. "It could be a play or a full-length feature or a short or an iPad app that's more involved than the one that accompanies this record. The idea that those possibilities exist are why we approached ('Undun') that way; we want there to be an option for the music to be able to live on if we choose to take it there."
At the moment, however, Black Thought says those discussions have existed only inside the Roots' camp. "It's been discussed amongst ourselves," he notes, "but no one has approached us to say, 'Why don't you do this to further develop this character?' But the backstory that's told and the whole mockumentary thing set it up to be a possibility."
Until something is decided upon, however, the Roots are pleased they took the conceptual route this time out.
"It just felt like it's time to do something of a little more substance at this point in our career," Black Thought explains. "Even though it's a fictitious character, it's very real. It's documenting something that we're very, very familiar with -- people that we grew up with, people that we've lost to the streets or to the prison system.
"The moral is that this can happen to anyone, just based on circumstance. If you're from where I'm from (Philadelphia) and you experience what I experienced or what this character has experienced, it can very well happen to you. And it's not always a bad person with bad intention that goes through this kind of thing or meets their end in this way, either."
The Roots' house band gig on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," of course, limits opportunities to play "Undun," but the group plans to incorporate some of the new music into its breaks. As for performing the album in its entirety at some point, Black Thought says, "maybe at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall or Radio City. That would be the move." At recent shows, however, including a release party on Dec. 6, the group opted to "integrate certain key songs that translated into a live format a little better than others."
Beyond the album, the Roots also made news recently for the controversy stirred by playing Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" as walk-on music for Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's Nov. 22 appearance on "Late Night." The group's Questlove recently told the Associated Press that the Roots now has to clear song choices with NBC, and Black Thought says that while the incident is "water under the bridge at this point," he regrets that the intended message was misunderstood.
"We didn't take into full consideration the repercussions of using that particular song," he explains. "When we did consider that was what we were going to play, we were more focused on the 'lyin' aspect than we were on the 'bitch' part. But just the use of that term, I think it conveyed a misogynistic tone that we didn't necessarily intend."