For many people growing up in the 70s and 80s, Schoolhouse Rock! was a fundamental part of their childhood. The interstitial series that aired during ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon block featured animated clips with songs that taught about relevant issues, from history and grammar to science and civics. The combination of the videos’ frequent rotation and their ultra-catchy nature made many of the songs indelible for an entire generation. In fact, some even went on to inspire artists like De La Soul to sample them, when they got older.
Beyond the education they provided, many Schoolhouse Rock! clips contained powerful subtexts for impressionable young minds. For example, “Verb: That’s What’s Happenin'” not only taught about action words, for many, it also was one of the first places where they saw a Black superhero in action.
On last night’s season premiere of Black-ish–also broadcast on ABC–the show’s writers tapped into Schoolhouse Rock’s ability to educate on a number of levels, and recruited The Roots to remake arguably the most famous installment of all.
In its original version, “I’m Just A Bill” told the story of how bills get passed into laws by Congress. In The Roots’ re-take, they preserve the melody of the original, but change the subject matter to the history of slavery in America.
Black Thought handles the vocals and, to no surprise, sounds astonishingly like Jack Sheldon, the performer on the original. In the one minute long clip, they tackle why slaves weren’t released immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the significance of “Juneteenth” and more.