Revered rapper Big Daddy Kane revved up the crowd Sunday night at Detroit’s State Theater before the appearance of hip-hop’s greatest contemporary act, the Roots.

Kane’s presence was appropriate given that the Roots make music that sounds timeless, drawing from the past, defining the present and likely influencing the future.

In fact, the Roots are transcendent in nearly every applicable sense. Their music does not neatly fit into any one category; their appeal does not solely engage any one group; their inspiration does not singly come from any one source. And on Sunday, they delivered a performance that did not disappoint.

The pride of “Iladelph” were fantastic, performing a two-hour set that seamlessly blended together a bevy of their own works and some welcomed interpolations of other popular songs. The recipe for the show was on display immediately as MC Black Thought belted out “Rock You” over the inescapable melody from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

The Roots kept the crowd engaged throughout the show, a testament to their showmanship and the fond feelings that the fans harbor. Few other artists seem able to consistently earn from their followers the adoration that the Roots enjoy, and surely this exalted status stems from the effort put forth by the group, again apparent on Sunday.

Black Thought’s considerable presence enraptured the audience, and the highlight of Thought’s evening was his freestyle battle with guest MC Skillz. The impressive mic work was only surpassed by the instrumental virtuosity on display during the solos.

Len Hub pounded his bass, producing a funky and hard sound not always featured by the more melodic songs that casual Roots fans may recognize. In stark contrast, newcomer Ben Kenney blended his guitar riffs and slowly built towards the soft, tonal “Something in the Way of Things (In Town).”

Another recent Roots addition, percussionist Frankie Knuckles, acquitted himself nicely on his various bongo drums and drum pads, also enhancing the sound of ?uestlove’s own percussion. His solo was a welcomed reminder that ?uestlove remains a supreme drummer, a distinction perhaps obscured by his creativity as a producer.

However, no instrumental interlude surpassed Kamal’s, who klanged away on the keyboards, turning noise into music and initiating a rousing series of covers, including “Roc the Mic,” “Nothin'” and “Hot in Herre.”

The evening’s most memorable homage was paid to the late Jason Mizell, Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay. Human turntablist Scratch reproduced some of Jay’s greatest beats and the group offered a series of poses meant to both evoke hip-hop’s past and honor Run DMC’s significant contribution to the music and the culture.

For their parts, guests Kane and Skillz did well. Given his status, Big Daddy Kane is assured a rousing welcome and he was quite good, performing favorites like “Ain’t No Half Steppin.'” Skillz, meanwhile, proved that his moniker is warranted, displaying the lyrical gift that has allowed him to endure in the industry. His best moment came when he relayed a fictitious account of his brother’s murder meant to illustrate the studio-gangster phenomenon.

Neither Kane nor Skillz stole the Roots’ thunder, though. In addition to performing newer tracks from Phrenology, covering some songs and jamming on their instruments, the Roots played favorites like “You Got Me,” “The Next Movement” and “Swept Away” simultaneously imparting their previous works with new vitality and reminding the audience – though it likely hadn’t forgotten – just how good they have been since Organix.

– For more on the Roots, read the Daily’s interview with ?-uestlove appearing tomorrow.

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