Kendrick Lamar’s most recent performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon reminded us why he’s the best host for late night hip-hop acts. His unrivaled enthusiasm for the genre matched with legendary hip-hop band The Roots consistently results in nothing short of fantastic performance. Musically, the live band aspect is superior to other shows. When the music finishes, Fallon tends to form a genuine connection with his performers and has even received a piggyback to validate the claim. Kendrick’s “Untitled 2” was just another great performance within a long lineage of hip-hop guests on Jimmy Fallon’s show. In this list, True Too counts down twenty of the best.
20. Clipse – “Grindin’”
January 6, 2010
An “oldie but a goodie” is a great way to describe the track as Fallon did prior to the performance. The Roots do an incredible job of mimicking those hard-hitting drums, and Black Thought adds a verse for some extra flames.
19. Rae Sremmurd – No Type
December 2, 2014
As Fallon became more comfortable with his role in late night, he began to take more risks when it came to his guests. None were more obvious than having the ebullient duo Rae Sremmurd come on to play their hits from the summer of 2014. Despite the contrasting styles, The Roots pull off the instrumental and the duo from Atlanta energized the crowd with a memorable performance in an orange snuggie.
18. Childish Gambino – “Bonfire”
November 4, 2011
It must have been a little startling for some to see the lovable “Troy” from Community appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, especially considering his performance. An angry Gambino spits vicious bars over the rock-heavy instrumental “Bonfire,” being the closest thing hip-hop fans had seen to a rock concert genre-clash on late night TV.
17. Wu-Tang Clan “6 Directions of Boxing”
October 23, 2012
Fallon enthusiastically belted out “It is not easy to get these guys together in the same place at the same time!!” before the performance in October of 2012. It’s true. All the politics surrounding this group has made it nearly impossible for the Wu-Tang Clan to record new music. The mere presence of the whole Clan performing is definitely worth a listen to any hip hop fan and the reason why Fallon was so jubilant when he got them on stage.
16. Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal “Feel Right”
February 10, 2015
Lost in the hysteria of the smash hit “Uptown Funk,” Mark Ronson had another extremely infectious song on his 2015 album Uptown Special. “Feel Right” is a soulful jam featuring the New Orleans rapper Mystikal. The feel of the song was perfect for a group like The Roots to perform, and Mystikal turned it into an inspiring act on his late night TV debut.
15. Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”
After the hit blew up, Fetty Wap preformed his summer time anthem “Trap Queen” with The Roots. You can see the young rappers excitement to just be on that stage.
14. Nas – “Nasty”
February 2, 2012
It’s hard for a song of this caliber, from an artist of this stature, not to make the list. It also helped that the people of Fallon’s show make it one of the only concert-like atmospheres in the show’s history. “Nasty” was Nas’ defiant statement that he was a king of the genre and this performance helps validate it.
13. Erykah Badu – “Window Seat”
March 3, 2010
This performance exemplifies the grace and beauty of Erykah Badu’s transcendent artistry. A fervent performance only enhanced by The Roots’ live instrumentation.
12. Lupe Fiasco feat. Nikki Jean – “Little Death”
February 25, 2015
Lupe Fiasco’s’s third performance on Fallon’s show is undoubtedly his best. After a somewhat embarrassing effort during his “Show Goes On” performance in 2011, it was nice to see him performing a song from the epic Tetsuo & Youth in 2015. Lupe owns it with his profound lyricism and is accompanied by a beautiful Nikki Jean hook. No selling out this time – Lupe is in his element.
11. A Tribe Called Quest – “Can I Kick It?”
November 13, 2015
After getting acts like Public Enemy and the Wu-Tang Clan, we knew that Jimmy had some reach. But my god, if this isn’t the most impressive “get” on late night television, I don’t know what is. For the first time in 15 years (!!!) the Tribe reunites on live television to promote the reissue of their debut album. This performance is likely to put a smile on the face of any 90’s head; to think that for just a couple of minutes the Tribe was the Tribe again.
10. Joey Bada$$ – “Like Me”
January 13, 2015
Joey Bada$$ made his television debut with Fallon as an 18-year old in 2012. A few years later, and Joey is still amounting to more than most of us.
9. Drake feat. Sampha – “Too Much”
September 13, 2013
Drake basically memed himself into the #1 pop icon in 2015, but two years ago he reminded us just how artistic he was on Fallon’s show. He begins by saying: “I just want my friends and family to know that I want the best for them, and I love you all,” which was sure to make thousands of teenagers cry. Then with the help of Sampha’s gorgeous voice, Drake spits right from the heart and churns out a beautiful performance.
8. The Roots feat. A-Trak – “Never”
May 20, 2014
The Roots generously commit most of their time to other artists, but they’re artists too, and damn good ones at that. When given the limelight to play their own show, they never disappoint. “Never” – a beautiful song off of And Then You Shoot Your Cousin – is only made better by the live performance. The choir, the violins, the cutting by A-Trak, the electric guitar outro… it’s all magnificent.
7. Nas feat. Q-Tip – “One Love”
April 7, 2014
Nas and Q-Tip on Fallon’s late night show is just another example of canonized MC’s bringing some nostalgia with an incredible performance. The two artists exchange and share lines, marking an undoubtedly unique moment. If that wasn’t enough, the Roots recreation of that beat – especially the cello picking – is sure to make hip-hop heads swoon towards their TV’s.
6. A$AP Rocky – “L$D / Jukebox Joints”
June 11, 2015
If the music video and the song weren’t enough, this set definitely added to the trippiness of “L$D.” A$AP Rocky appears to be sitting on a bed, accompanied by some groovy-looking fake fires blowing out smoke. Then, in the middle of the acid trip, he grabs the mic and smoothly glides over the soulful “Jukebox Joints.” An artistic statement both visually and musically from Flacko.
5. Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
June 14, 2011
For all that Lauryn Hill’s been through, it was an amazing sight to see her looking so radiant on stage. Whether it was from her rapping, harmonizing, or hopping, it’s an enthusiastic masterpiece of a performance. Hardly ever has Fallon’s crowd been so enthused by a musician as they are by Ms. Hill.
4. The Roots feat. Bilal – “Tip The Scale”
December 6, 2011
It’s hard to make a claim that The Roots aren’t the greatest hip-hop band of all time after watching this. It’s absolutely jaw dropping. Every single member brings musical brilliance to the table. Yet the section that features the unnamed pianist and Questlove absolutely spazzing out on their respective instruments is about as passionate of a musical moment you will ever see. This is musical genius in every aspect.
3. Kendrick Lamar – “Untitled 2”
January 7, 2016
Where Kendrick’s pre-To Pimp A Butterfly SNL performance depicted him as an insane person, his “Untitled 2” depicts just about the opposite. The passion is still there, the onslaught of bars is still there, the jazzy instrumentation is still there, but this time, we see a defiant Kendrick – and there’s no reason to expect anything else. It’s been ten months since the release of his masterpiece, and for his first live performance since then, he reminds us that he is the “one.” Yet by doing so, he still shows he isn’t satisfied. After all that he’s accomplished, he still provides us with a memorable of a performance. A true artist – and we’re blessed to watch him work.
2. Tyler, The Creator & Hodgy Beats – “Sandwitches”
February 6, 2011
It’s primarily a young-person show, but I imagine most, if not all, of the older viewers gave up on Fallon after seeing this. Because if this wasn’t within the friendly confines of an NBC studio, a riot would have broken out. Every little detail from the gnomes, to the gothic girl, to Tyler’s piggyback on Fallon afterwards made this a crazy performance. This is prime Odd Future. So shocking it’s impossible to look away.
1. Kanye West feat. Charlie Wilson – “Bound 2”
September 9, 2011
There are a number of things that make this performance #1. I feel like I speak on behalf of all Kanye West fans when I say that I long for soul sample days of College Dropout and Late Registration. Well, Kanye gave us a taste of that with Yeezus’ closer: “Bound 2.” With the live version, the soulfulness is multiplied. The children’s choir, The Roots, and Charlie Wilson’s ‘shoobe-doo-dweeb-dweeb-dweeb’-ing all combine in a blissful mélange of pre-808’s Yeezy. And none of it would have worked effectively if it weren’t for Kanye’s well known aesthetic. He completely botches the start of the second verse, and replaces the “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches” with “one good chick is worth a thousand chickens.” With a boisterous and massive ego, it’s no wonder why he’s #1, as part of the genre’s common motifs within its content is always about explaining how you’re the best and why.