“I’ve got a Bill Murray story,“ Questlove says, in all seriousness. It was just discussed that only two stories go viral these days: those about Kanye West or the Ghostbusters star. “Bill Murray strangely followed my DJ tours, like three of them in three random spots in Brooklyn. I didn’t believe it was actually Bill Murray. He was the last guy to leave, every time. That was the strange part. It was a party of one thousand people and when it came down to 7 a.m., he was still there.“
Here, at 11:15 a.m. in midtown Manhattan, the party has already ended. Bill Murray isn’t here. Instead, the place is filled with harried moms, Italian tourists and mostly media, slurping milk and admiring the digs. The makeshift setup on West 54th street is a Kellogg’s cereal pop-up shop, which – for the week – is hosting the likes of Momofuku Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi and Dr. Travis Stork; Derek Hough, he of Dancing with the Stars fame, will teach a cereal-inspired dance on Friday. The advertising campaign of “Cereal + Milk“ is to remind people of the importance of breakfast, though it smacks of Don Draper saying “It’s Toasted.“ This morning, The Roots made bossa nova of ceramic bowls and spoons, repeating only the words “milk and cereal.” Hypnosis a la Stomp is a new iTunes category.
As always, the Roots are a little subversive, or a little nerdy. They open with a Cymande breakbeat dug from the crates and are joined by seven students from Philly’s Creative and Performing Arts high school, the very one attended by Questlove, Black Thought and Boyz II Men. A man dressed as Tony the Tiger wags his finger; a grown woman trips racing over to take pictures with him. A roadie, moving the tuba from stage to case, breaks two bowls in pieces.
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A staffer says, “No lie, there’s like 20 3-year-olds here. It’s like a preschool.” It’s an entirely different crowd than the one from the night before, where just blocks away the group shared a stage with Dave Chappelle. Two weeks ago, they were at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, between Wiz Khalifa and Nicki Minaj. In a week, they’ll once again host Philadelphia’s July 4th concert alongside Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande. At this moment, The Roots are everything to everyone. They are the magic shape that fits into any slot.
It wasn’t always this way. Their shows used to be packed by hippie-dippie white kids, left-of-center politically and socially. “What has more granola,” I ask. “Roots fans or Kellogg’s cereal?“ Black Thought takes a moment. “Um, I’m gonna say Kellogg’s cereal. At this point, at least. It used to be our fans, but that’s changed because the Tonight Show has introduced us to a different audience. There’s a whole new demo that’s familiar with the Roots and not even necessarily from our music. Now, I think it’s a broader range of fans.“ Official Kellogg’s mascots never used to be at their shows.
They’re famed for their punny song-associations on Fallon’s show, so it was surprising they didn’t come out and do LL Cool J’s “Milky Cereal” or Slim Thug’s “Grippin’ the Grain.” Instead, it was “The Fire,“ from their 2010 album How I Got Over and a cover of Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie“; a wide net of a jam for a small fish.
Backstage, Black Thought immediately offers, “How about Slick Rick’s verse from “The Show” where he said, “Then she went roar like she was Tony the Tiger / I said hold on, there’s been a mistake / Honey, my name’s Slick Rick, not Frosted Flakes.” A minute later, he’s doing the hook from the group’s Apple Jacks-referencing new song “The People Cheer.” “Cereal references all over the place, you just gotta look for them,” Black Thought says. Questlove was impressed, arching an eyebrow in approval. “You’re quick,“ he said.
The interview ended, another began. Or, it was about to, when Black Thought ran off. He had to get this off his chest: “‘Serial Killa,’ the Snoop Dogg song that Dr. Dre did.” He laughed. “Now I’m gonna be thinking about this all day.“