Cool has its cruel ironies. ''The critical acclaim we get is great, but it's not translating into sales,'' says Tariq Trotter, raspy-voiced MC and Roots founder. ''Geffen's got the alternative formula down; they know the trail to make [Weezer and Beck] blow up, but they don't know what to do with hip-hop.''
Geffen Records may lack experience with rap. But to be fair, the Roots are not the easiest act to market. As their sumptuous debut, Do You Want More?!!!??!, clearly illustrates, Trotter, 23, and his Philly B-boys favor the unorthodox including scats amid the rap, bagpipes (yes, bagpipes), and a five-piece classically trained band. Guest appearances by jazz artists add to the confusion. Are they rap, jazz, or a fusion of the two? ''This whole jazz-hip-hop umbrella is like the dark cloud over our heads,'' says cofounder and drummer Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, 24, ''but when it comes to hip-hop, that's what we are. Strictly.''