Respect Earned Overdue: The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, 25 Years Later

by

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Roots are living and breathing Hip Hop musical museums—a live band of jazz funk instrumentations and breakbeats with a lyricism that merges science and art. Yet, despite debuting their first album in 1993, it wasn’t until the release of their fourth project, Things Fall Apart, that they elevated themselves to The Legendary Roots Crew.

Born & Raised

The Roots credit by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

The Root’s origin story goes back to its founders, Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, who met at Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The two bonded as Hip Hop fans with other friends and formed a band called The Square Roots. After dropping the “Square,” the group strengthened their skills around the city until booking a gig in Germany. The group developed their first album, Organix, a recorded collection of live shows, creating an industry buzz of offers from various record companies.

After signing their first record deal, The Roots released their second album, Do You Want More?!!!??!, with the lead single Proceed. The album’s commercial success was minimal, but its cultural impact built the band a small cult fanbase that followed them to their third album.

The Root’s third release, Illadelph Halflife, is an organized Hip Hop late-night jam session. Clones is a street corner posse cut piece displaying band members Dice Raw, Malik B, and lead Black Thought as lethal MCs. The smoothed-out What They Do plays as a midnight love R&B track, with the music video giving a semi-shot to The Notorious B.I.G.

All In!!!!

After three beloved albums, The Root’s music quality was never in question, yet the sales of their work were always in the red. So, for their fourth attempt at bat, the group felt pressured to deliver work with commercial impact. “We were kind of near the 400,000 [sales] mark and felt that What They Do would finally bring us to platinum,” said Questlove in an interview with Urban Legends. “It didn’t happen, even though the video was loved.”

Things Fall Apart credit by The Roots/MCA Records/Music On Vinyl

On February 23, 1999, The Roots dropped their fourth album, Things Fall Apart. The lead single You Got Me ft. Erykah Badu is a Hip Hop love story. Black Thought’s tale about falling in love with a woman after meeting her by doing what he loves, which is performing, is a poetic type of love. The lady MC (uncredited Eve) raps a response with a feeling of devotion and innocence. The record label forced The Roots to have a then-known star on the song, hence why Badu sings the words Jill Scott wrote. “There was a whole issue with the label with them wanting to use a different singer,” Black Thought told Complex. “We wanted to use Jill, just as the writer for the song.”

You Got Me, as a single, delivered The Roots their first hit record, peaking at number 11 on Billboard. As the album itself, Things Fall Apart supplied an elite art form of lyricism and rhythm. The Next Movement shows Black Thought being in a class of his own with lines like “Black rain fallin’ from the sky looks strange/The ghetto is red hot, we steppin’ on flames.” Dynamite, produced by the late great J. Dilla, has an addictive cello sound that compliments every rhyme. Double Trouble is Black Thought and Mos Def exchanging rap bars in a tag team style like Run DMC. Meanwhile, Adrenaline introduces the world to fellow Philly native Beanie Sigel, who destroys the song. At the same time, The Spark is Malik B’s solo record showcasing that he’s more than just Black Thought’s wingman.

Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin New

Things Fall Apart was a proving ground album for The Roots that showed they could have success commercially and critically equally. The single You Got Me won a Grammy Award, and the album sold a million copies. The album’s sound represented a movement of other alternative Hip Hop artists’ work, such as Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol.2, and Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Blackstar. Things Fall Apart is a timeless work that propelled The Roots to become the official maestros of Hip Hop.

advanced divider
advanced divider
Advertisement