Bassist and composer Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, one of the earliest members of The Roots, passed away on December 16 after a long battle with multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer with which he was diagnosed, and which led to his departure from the band, in 2007. He was 62.
“It’s with the heaviest of hearts that we say goodbye to our brother Leonard Nelson Hubbard,” the Roots posted on social media. “May your transition bring peace to your family to your friends to your fans and all of those who loved you. Rest in Melody Hub.”
Although the Roots were founded in 1987 by drummer/musical director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter when both were students at Philadelphia’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (and originally called the Square Roots), Hubbard — pictured above with the band in 2002, second from left — and a second MC, Malik B., were next to join.
After dropping “Square” from their band’s name in 1992, the newly-christened Roots released their independent debut album, “Organix,” in 1993. This album featured Hubbard co-compositions such as “Writer’s Block,” and tracks co-penned with Trotter, Thompson and the ensemble’s then-keyboardist Scott Storch, who would go on to become a top producer in the following years.
The group — a very rare-at-the-time live band featuring rappers — were leaders in the burgeoning “neo-soul” movement of the era, along with collaborators like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, and signed with Geffen Records (that era was recalled by current Republic Records co-president Wendy Goldstein, who signed the band to Geffen, during a recent interview with Variety). Hubbard maintained his role as bassist, co-composer and arranger during his 15-year tenure with The Roots, appearing on 1995’s “Do You Want More?!!!??!,” 1996’s “Illadelph Halflife,” 1999’s “Things Fall Apart” (where he was a co-writer of the Roots’ biggest hit, the Badu-featuring “You Got Me”), and 2004’s “The Tipping Point.”
His bass work was filled with vintage jazz and R&B licks, current hip-hop and hints of psychedelia. A fun, brief clip of Hubbard performing a bass solo during a Roots set at Bonnaroo can be found here:
Hubbard’s last recordings with the Roots appeared on 2006’s “Game Theory,” and he departed from the band following his 2007 cancer diagnosis. He briefly reunited with them at the 2008 annual Roots Picnic in Philadelphia. In 2016 he sued the Roots over a contract dispute; there was no word on a resolution, although the case was still on the Pennsylvania court dockets in 2018.
Over the years he continued to work on a solo project that featured contributions from one-time Roots’ associates Jill Scott and Jaguar Wright, as well as Ben Harper and Living Colour founder Vernon Reid.
Stephanie Hubbard, the late bassist’s wife, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the album was finished just last week.
In 2020, Malik B., who’d joined the band with Hubbard, passed away at the age of 47.
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