PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where people who have paid their dues join us to get some of the benefits of membership. Tariq Trotter, also known as Black Thought, co-founded the band The Roots, which has put up dozens of albums, collaborated with just as many superstar musicians and, for the last decade or so, has been the house band for "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon." Now, the one thing missing from that resume, classic works of modern drama. So his next gig is acting in an online production of "Waiting For Godot." He joins us now. Tariq Trotter, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
TARIQ TROTTER: Hey. How you guys doing? Thanks so much for having me.
SAGAL: We are absolutely delighted. I heard a story about how you met Questlove, the other leader of the band.
SAGAL: I wanted to see if it's true. You met in high school in Philly, right?
TROTTER: We did. Yeah.
SAGAL: And how did that meeting come about?
TROTTER: I mean, it was a long time ago. As I recall, we were in the principal's office on opposite sides of the fence, so to speak. I was receiving a suspension.
TROTTER: And I think he had come into the office to bring, like, flowers to the principal.
TROTTER: He was delivering an apple or something.
TROTTER: Yeah, I noticed he had a denim jacket with the peace sign that was hand painted on the back of it. And I was a visual arts student, and one of my sort of side hustles was that I would do jackets and jeans, you know, with that same sort of design. So it caught my eye. I was wondering, you know, who's this guy sort of, you know, moving in on my turf?
SAGAL: Right, right.
TROTTER: And yeah, we struck up a conversation. And I found out he was a musician and a drummer and, you know, that he was, you know, into hip-hop and sampling stuff. And yes, so we decided that once I got back from my suspension that we were going to, you know...
SAGAL: The only thing missing from that story is what did you do to get yourself suspended?
TROTTER: You know, I think I was, like, making out with my girlfriend in school.
SAGAL: If that's a crime, I don't want to...
TROTTER: Yeah, you know, like, come on, man.
SAGAL: Come on.
TROTTER: Love is a crime.
SAGAL: Exactly. Exactly. You founded the band. It was even called The Roots back then, right? I mean...
TROTTER: No, no, no. Back then - yeah, we founded The Roots in 1987, and we were initially called Radioactivity. And then....
LACI MOSLEY: It wasn't called The Seed?
TROTTER: No, no, no. You know, my kid made a similar joke earlier.
SAGAL: (Laughter) Oh, really?
TROTTER: Yeah, yeah. My daughter was asking if I could quiz her on her knowledge of me. And one of the questions that I asked her - she's 15. One of the things that I asked her was, you know, what was the initial name of the band. And she said, it The Seeds? And I said, no, close.
SAGAL: Do you feel good about that, Laci, or not so good?
MOSLEY: I feel excellent about that.
SAGAL: All right. That's important.
MOSLEY: I'm just trying to scam my way into also being Tariq's daughter.
SAGAL: Were you always the MC of the band? That was your role from the beginning?
TROTTER: Yeah. Yeah, that was always my role. It began as, you know, just an MC and a drummer.
SAGAL: That was it. It was an MC and a drummer.
SAGAL: And did you always - I mean, for those who don't know, you are renowned for your ability, among many other things, to freestyle. Is that something that you had back then? Or is that something you had to build and learn and work towards?
TROTTER: I mean, it's always been, you know, a work in progress. But once The Roots - once we actually formed a band and it was like, OK, we're going to do this thing, and I'm going to rap over live instrumentation, I felt like I had to go - you know, just always able to go above and beyond, you know, what was expected of me as an MC and as a performer.
SAGAL: I say this as someone who's constantly making stuff up off the top of my head. Have you ever, like, started a phrase and had no idea where it was going to end, but it just like - and you get it? It's like, I hope I think of something to rhyme by the time - in three seconds when I get there.
TROTTER: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I've impressed myself, you know...
ADAM FELBER: (Laughter).
SAGAL: So you've been part of this band since 1987. And you guys had a tremendous amount of success and credibility already. And how did you guys react when - I don't know who it was - Fallon or one of his producers came to you back - and this was when he has "Late Show," I remember...
SAGAL: ...Before it became "Tonight Show." And so he wanted you to be the house band for this late night comedy show or talk show.
TROTTER: Initially, it was disbelief and, you know, just distrust. You know what I mean? It was like, are we being punked?
HELEN HONG: (Laughter).
TROTTER: And, you know, why us sort of thing.
SAGAL: I can't say I know a lot about hip-hop, but I'm just assuming that you guys as established people in that field were not, like, really excited to be the next Paul Shaffer.
TROTTER: Yeah. No, no. I wasn't - I don't think any of us were really excited. This wasn't - you know, I didn't see this as part of our trajectory, and it wasn't - definitely not a rapper goal.
SAGAL: I got to ask you one last question before we go to the game. And that is you're famous for a lot of things, some of which you've mentioned. But one thing we haven't mentioned yet that you are well-known for is your beard. You have a magnificent beard. It is quite the thing. Has that been a pain in the butt during pandemic, trying to get a mask on that? Did you have one specially made?
TROTTER: So there are lots of people in Roots who have beards, lots of people on staff. And those people made masks to fit beards. I call them beardos (ph).
TROTTER: Yeah, just, like, longer masks that, you know, I think all of us have at this point that you can wear that you can sort of, you know, tuck your whole beard in.
FELBER: You can keep a snack in there, too.
TROTTER: Yeah, right.
SAGAL: Well, Tariq Trotter, Black Thought, we have had so much fun with you today. But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: It's great, just great. But we have a few notes.
SAGAL: You're, of course, a founding member of The Roots, so we thought we'd ask you about suits - that is network executives the ones who oversee movies and TV.
TROTTER: You're going to get me fired.
SAGAL: No, no. We're not going to ask you anybody at NBC Universal. Don't worry about it.
TROTTER: OK. OK.
SAGAL: Answer three questions about these very helpful people and their contributions to the creative arts. You will win our prize one of our listeners, the voice of anyone from our show they might choose on their voicemail.
Bill, who is Tariq Trotter playing for?
KURTIS: Andrew Stevens of Fort Wayne, Ind.
SAGAL: All right, here's your first question. So the executive in charge of "Back To The Future," back when that movie was made, thought the script was great, just great. He did have one little suggestion, though. What was it? A, instead of a DeLorean, make the time machine a tricycle because tricycles are funny; B, the hero Marty McFly should stay in the past and in the end be revealed to be his own father; or, C, change the title from "Back To The Future" to "Spaceman From Pluto?"
TROTTER: I'm going to say B.
SAGAL: You're going to say B, that he's, like, Marty McFly should go back, meet his mother and marry his mother and become his own father. That's what you think.
TROTTER: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah.
SAGAL: I mean, we are thinking about a network executive. So it could happen that way. Is that going to be your choice?
TROTTER: Yes, it's B. I'm going to say B.
SAGAL: No, I was actually C. He wanted to call it "Spaceman From Pluto." Here's your next question. Mark Frost, the co-creator of "Twin Peaks," among other TV series, was once hired to do a new version of "Moby Dick" for a movie studio in the '90s. And he says that one studio exec asked him the following question. Was it A, can it be a dolphin instead? People like dolphins; B, how does the boat go without a motor; or C, does Ahab have to die in the end?
FELBER: Massive spoiler there, Peter.
MOSLEY: It's too old to be spoiled.
SAGAL: There's no spoiler alert for a 150-year-old novel. sorry.
TROTTER: OK, I'm going to say A.
SAGAL: You're going to say - so you're thinking that these network executive who's commissioned a new version of "Moby Dick" said to the writer, can it be a dolphin instead, the great white whale?
TROTTER: Yeah, he said does Ahab have to die?
SAGAL: That's right.
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SAGAL: He said, does Ahab have to die?
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SAGAL: Mark Frost also says that this guy used to refer to the protagonist of that film that didn't get made as Ish.
SAGAL: Ishmael's too formal. He just wanted to call him Ish. All right. You're...
FELBER: I kind of like that.
SAGAL: Yeah. All right. Here's your last question. You get this - you win. Which of these was an actual comment from a network executive at NBC when they passed on the pilot for "The Walking Dead"? Was it A, the U.S. government would never allow a pandemic like that to get out of hand; B, instead of eating people, could the monsters have a thing for, like, Twinkies; or C, this is awesome. I really love it. Does it have to have zombies in it?
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SAGAL: That one you knew.
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SAGAL: That's what he said. They passed. It did pretty well, I am told, at another channel.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Tariq Trotter do on our show?
KURTIS: He won, won, won. Two out of three - big one.
SAGAL: There you go. Add that to the remarkable resume. Tariq Trotter is an actor, producer, rapper known as Black Thought. He is the co-founder of The Roots. You can see him starting May 6 in an all-remote version of "Waiting For Godot." More information at thenewgroup.org.
Tariq Trotter, what a joy to talk to you. Thank you for all the great things you've done.
TROTTER: Thanks, you guys.
SAGAL: Take care.
KURTIS: Thanks, Tariq.
TROTTER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW I GOT OVER")
THE ROOTS: (Singing) Out on the streets where I grew up...
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