By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
This is the quickest record we've ever recorded. Normally we spend at least a year working on an album, but we started in August  and finished in January . And there's an assurance that we've had in the past. I'm not sure if that's the right word, but it's the feeling you have when you've had time to let things marinate. We worked on borrowed time between tours, so the actual creation of the music was way more intense. We had to be twelve times more scrutinizing. I've changed the way I do music — it's more like an assembly line, so that the absolute power of decisions regarding a track doesn't rest on any one person's shoulders. We're working with about twenty trusted people, not "yes men," whose opinions we really listen to. There was a time in my life when someone under my payroll not feeling the music didn't mean anything to me, but I'm mature enough now to know that my eyes and ears aren't enough.
What did all of the people you worked or collaborated with teach you?
That's a beautiful question. I think I didn't understand fully the stature of the Roots until we worked with this set of collaborators. We ended up attracting the interest of talented artists. We had Saigon calling us back while on the set at Entourage, and Common, who was working on the set of Wanted with Angelina Jolie. We knew who we wanted and were warned by management about the unlikelihood of some of these collaborations, so much that we almost passed on asking some people. But it turned out to be like a musical Noah's Ark — people dropped what they were doing and made time to get on.
So much has been made of declining album sales and creative dearth in hip-hop today. With so much media attention on what's wrong with the genre, can you talk about what you think is going right?
One of my qualms about that Oprah witch-hunt that happened around September 2007 and the post-Imus reaction, i.e. "hip-hop can say it, but I can't," is that the glass that is half full in hip-hop has at least as much power as the glass that's half empty. This is a case of people cutting off their nose to spite their face. Imagine the possibility of Oprah spending those two days [of her show spent focusing on violence in hip-hop] on the political awareness Kanye and Common bring with their lyrics. Michael Jordan isn't the only basketball player on the court, but you might think so if he's the only one people are talking about. Lupe Fiasco, MURS — there's a group from Minneapolis called Atmosphere that's like a little train that could, track after track. These are artists offering deep narratives and good music. Imagine the possibility of bringing them the attention they deserve.
8 p.m. Thursday, May 29. The Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. $38 to $59. 314-534-1111.