The Roots – Things Fall Apart

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1. Like OutKast, the Roots released two overrated records before releasing their best album ever (1998’s Aquemini and 1999’s Things Fall Apart).

2. And the similarities don’t end there: both groups entered the 2000s with more experimental pretentions in Stankonia/Speakerboxxx and The Love Below and Phrenology.

3. Don’t let the cover and title confuse you: this is not a conscious rap album. Conscious rap, as in, rap about conscioussubject matter? Doesn’t happen here. Hell, when the title’s words are finally uttered, Black Thought is talking about romantic relationships (“You Got Me”).

4. Unsurprisingly, at 18 tracks, this can stand to lose some songs, even ignoring the skits. “Step Into the Realm,” with its heavy drums + piano loop, sounds like a throwaway from The Infamous and surprisingly, J Dilla’s contribution, “Dynamite!” is among the weaker numbers here, mostly relying on a warm keyboard cadence and a nice bass fill.

5. And it was a bad idea letting Mos Def end “Double Trouble” with his endless ad-libs. It’s always a bad idea to let Mos Def end a song with his endless ad-libs.

6. This album’s gorgeous keyboard tones – in fact, the most gorgeous keyboard tones of any hip-hop album (Name one better! You can’t!) – makes this ideal night-time listening, like say Midnight Marauders or Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space).

Except, in comparison to those two, (1) the vibe of Things Fall Apart (and true of most Roots albums) is darker or more sobering, culminating in “Return to Innocence Lost” and (2) Black Thought is a much better rapper than Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Digable Planets’ interchangeable rappers combined, even if his voice isn’t as commanding of your attention as Q’s, especially on this album where it often merges with (or get buried under) the instruments.

In other words, Things Fall Apart isn’t as immediate as the louder Phrenology, the shorter Game Theory, the underrated Rising Down or the catchier How I Got Over, but give it a chance and it’ll grow on you.

7. Even the album’s heavier tracks don’t disrupt the album’s flow while flexing their sonic muscles: “Table of Contents (Parts 1 & 2)” balances the splattering drums with a slow-rising, melodic keyboard line before the beat switch (“Delicate MC’s sliced in my delicatessan”); the aptly-titled “Adrenaline” sounds like any of these other songs, just faster. And the aforementioned “Double Trouble,” which sees Black Thought and Mos Def going toe-to-toe against each other like a live battle, has a gorgeous keyboard/marimba/steel drum line buried in there. That one’s an easy album highlight, with both rappers flipping through flows and inventive rhymes like a rolodex.

8. Other things to note: the counterpointing instruments in “The Spark”; the drum-based groove on “Without A Doubt”; the direct keyboard lines of “100% Dundee” and “You Don’t See Us”; the vocal beds of “The Next Movement” and “Act Too (The Love of My Life)” (the sequel to Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.”).

On the latter, I really love the string line that comes in during the bridge – it’s like watching the sun come up. Similar surprise occurs when ?uestlove takes over on “You Got Me.”

9. Of course, “You Got Me” is a great song, even without the outro. Perhaps Ms. Badu’s most indelible melody; sharp drums and a subtle mix of backing vocals, picked guitar, and strings.

10. The best album of 1999.

A+

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One response to “The Roots – Things Fall Apart

  1. Fantastic assessment. I have loved this record for many years, and could give reasons why, but none would be as informed and perfectly formed as what you have achieved here. Thank you.

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