In the music spotlight: The Roots

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The Taste of Chicago has hosted a wide-ranging selection of free concerts over the years. Headliners this year include indie rockers The Decemberists, soul legends the Isley Brothers, genre-spanning brothers the Kongos, and alterna-punk icon Billy Idol. The series begins July 6 with groundbreaking hip-hop band The Roots.

During 29 years together, the Roots have distinguished themselves as purveyors of soulful grooves performed by savvy musicians rather than relying upon loops and samples. Drummer and all-around studio whiz Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is an especially recognizable presence to watchers of “Late Night” or “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” for whom the Roots have served as house band since 2009. Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter’s incisive and razor-edged lyrics have secured his position in the upper echelon of contemporary MCs.

The Roots’ unique appeal to hip-hop and alternative pop audiences alike has allowed wide-ranging and potent collaborations. The single “You Got Me” from 1999’s “Things Fall Apart” album saw Black Thought trading vocals with Erykah Badu and Eve. The song won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

More recently, the Roots recorded the 2013 full-length album “Wise Up Ghost” with Elvis Costello. The imaginative collaboration grew from mutual admiration between Costello and Questlove, and was facilitated by Costello’s appearances on “Late Night.” Black Thought has worked on a long-gestating solo project with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio.

The Roots’ latest work is its eleventh album, 2014’s “… And Then You Shoot Your Cousin.” Several of the songs poke at hip-hop stereotypes and examine violence in America.

* The Roots, with Donnie Trumpet, Taste of Chicago 5:30 p.m. July 6, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park. Tickets  $23 (seated) lawn is free;

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Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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