The Roots have been much mocked over their long run as rap’s resident jam band, the noodling blank slate on which bad-dancing white kids projected their hopes and dreams. A friend called them facilitators. That they are, but the what of it has changed over the years, and not always for the better–facilitating goofy boho elitism and avant-messageboard-carping is at least as much a part of their legacy as backing Jay-Z or playing global hip-hop ambassadors. In a lot of ways, their versatility often worked against them: virtuosity passed for virtue, and Black Thought became a mumbling etch-a-sketch, able to draw anything and just as easily reset to null. Ironic, then, that the Roots’ Great Artistic Compromise increasingly looks to be their salvation.
On Fallon’s show, mostly their job is just giving way. Pour them into a different mold every night, and they will flawlessly fill out the shape. Thought Black Thought needed more character? Watch him do a verse on “Bring the Noise.” Thought the Roots didn’t knock hard enough? They do when they’re doing a Public Enemy song. A couple weeks ago, they made Ludacris sound like a god–which maybe he is sometimes, but not with the singles he’s currently slinging. They’re elevating everyone’s game right now. For them alone, this show deserves to last. [Video via illRoots]