Since 1987, The Roots have been at the forefront of hip-hop’s musical evolution, fusing everything from jazz and R&B to punk and dub to gritty street observations and instrumental ingenuity. Currently the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
, rapper Black Thought and drummer Questlove recently journeyed to Cognac, France, to deejay at an exclusive party at the Hennessy mansion (this year they were named the liquor brand's US Ambassadors). Artist duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
, whose politically provocative work includes a music video for Massive Attack's latest, Heligoland,
and an upcoming book about the Belfast Exposed photo archives with Steidl, went along to film the action. The next day they rode the train to Paris with Black Thought and Questlove, who found it difficult to keep their eyes open—although the group's latest album, a collaboration with John Legend, is called Wake Up!
. But Richard Nichols, the Roots' long-time manager, offered an alert take on how the perception of black music has changed since the days of Ray Charles and Curtis Mayfield, and how its popularization often leads to cultural clashes, typified by The Roots’ surreal day trip into the heartland of French aristocracy. Broomberg and Chanarin were drawn to this tension: “There was this glaring juxtaposition between hip-hop culture and the old baroque space of this mansion. We wanted to bring out that contrast,” says Broomberg. “I don’t think you can talk about hip-hop without talking about race, colonialism and all these subjects that it touches upon. I think politics and race are part of that music genre.” The artists' film, shot exclusively for NOWNESS, features a hypnotic soundtrack by Frankly
, with Rupert Clervaux on drums.