Ousted Roots Percussionist Fires Back in Court

Roots front man Questlove plays the drums as part of Dave Chappelle’s August 2017 residency at Radio City Music Hall. (Photo credit: Radio City Music Hall)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Ousted Roots percussionist Frank “Knuckles” Williams hit his former bandmates with a federal trademark suit.

In a 23-page complaint filed on Aug. 17 in New York, Williams claims that the band’s management misrepresented earnings and failed to pay him the correct amount of royalties.

Williams’ lawsuit comes after he was booted from the band in May. He says Roots management have made no efforts since then to come to an agreement regarding past and future royalties, compensation and profits. “They simply kicked him out of The Roots and presumed he would forget about almost two decades of hard work, dedication, and effort he put into The Roots,” the complaint states.

A 38-year-old Philadelphia native, Williams attributes his firing on a plan by the other band members to keep a greater portion of profits for themselves.

Since March 2009, the Roots have served as the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.”

They also played four nights at Radio City Hall in collaboration with Dave Chappelle’s August residency. Billed as “Rootsapalooza,” the Roots’ nights featured guest appearances from heavy-hitter performers Usher, Ice Cube, Lil Wayne, Big Boi and Common.

Promotional posters and social-media posts hyping the event purportedly included Williams in photos of the band, something he alleges in his lawsuit amounts to trademark infringement.

“By doing so, defendants have converted Williams into an involuntary spokesperson for their band,” the complaint states. “Moreover, defendants used Williams’ likeness in a manner that creates the false implication and impression that Williams sponsors, endorses or is otherwise associated with defendants and their band, and/or would be appearing at the live performances and concerts.  “

In addition to an accounting, Williams wants damages, alleging trademark infringement, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty.

Roots formed in Philadelphia in 1987 with founding members and co-defendants Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. Williams spells the latter bandmate’s first name as Tarik in the complaint.

Blending jazzy live instrumentation with conscious hip-hop, the Roots are frequently heralded by various outlets as one of the best live bands in existence.

Williams joined the group in 2002, around the time of their double-album “Phrenology.”

In 2002, Jay-Z released his “MTV Unplugged” record, in which the Roots performed instrumental version of his hits. In the introduction of the opening track “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” Jay-Z celebrated the musicians as “the most incredible Roots band.”

Questlove and Black Thought recently executive produced the cast album for the critically acclaimed Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won Best Musical Theater Album in February 2016, adding another Grammy to their resume.

Representatives for the Roots did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Williams is represented by Manhattan attorney Mark Shirian.

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