“i deal with the real” [The Roots – Things Fall Apart]

November 9th, 2011 by | Tags: , ,

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is an ongoing series of observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. This is the thirteenth. I’ve had The Roots on my mind ever since their album undun was announced. I thought it would be interesting to try and take a look at where my relationship with the music of The Roots began. (This is an interesting exercise in avoiding typing “The Roots’s” as much as possible.)

Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan), Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”, Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), On why I buy vinyl sometimes, on songs about places, Mellowhype’s Blackendwhite, a general post on punk, a snapshot of what I’m listening to, on Black Thought blacking out on “75 Bars”

I first became conscious of The Roots around the time “You Got Me” dropped. 1998? 1999? Thinking back, I figure it was because my mom was heavy into Erykah Badu and liked the song, which was the lead single from Things Fall Apart. I thought that song was really good, because I also secretly liked Badu at the time, too. The video had a great concept at a point in time I remember as being pretty creatively bankrupt. You were either Hype Williams or jocking him. I think Little X might have been going then, I don’t remember. (After googling: He was active, and the video for “Neck Uv Da Woodz” shows a pretty okay sense of style with that Russian text, but he hadn’t yet reached the heights of Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass.” And man, I forgot how much Andre ran wild over “Neck Uv Da Woodz.” And in the “Shake It Fast” video, the girl with the Evil cropped tee? Yowza, no wonder I loved this video as a kid.) But the video, with the twist at the end and haunting imagery, made a melancholy song even more melancholy. It turned the song into the flip side of “Renee” by the Lost Boyz, only the guy dies at the end.

I started paying attention after that. I don’t remember if I got Things Fall Apart on tape or if we just spun the single for a while. I eventually got the album, and at some point, I saw the video for “The Next Movement.” (For some reason, every time I refer to this song, I call it “Adrenaline,” which is totally wrong. I didn’t even write the name right on here until I youtubed up the video.) Regardless, the video for “The Next Movement” was good. Great, even. I’d watch Rap City when I came home after school, and I feel like they gave it a lot of spins.

The video’s got a lot of flavor. It’s clever and funny, thanks to the gimmick of the band moving in space every time the showgirls close the curtains. and interesting enough to be worth watching. The part where they open the curtains too soon and you can see the production guys setting up–that’s good. It also does a great job of getting across exactly what the band is about. It’s live instruments, an emcee, and good tunes. Neo-soul swagger before it was properly termed neo-soul, even.

One thing that’s nice about The Roots is how well put-together their albums are. I didn’t feel particularly compared to seek out Ja Rule after his guest verse on “Can I Get A…” In fact, word around school was that he was Tupac’s cousin or DMX’s brother or something, so who cared? But on Things Fall Apart, I wanted more. More Eve, more Badu, more Common, more Jazzy Jeff… It’s all because The Roots are perfectionists. That may be an unfair term. It’s more that they care so much about what they do that they don’t bother phoning it in. If you’re on a Roots album, you don’t get to come wack. You black out or you go home.

Beanie Sigel was on “Adrenaline,” which might be the track that stands out the most on the album for me right now. It’s an essential part of The Roots’ catalog. I love the way the music warps around the words. I like hearing Malik B on tracks. Dice Raw’s first five bars go hard, and his last three are the perfect capstone.

Beans, though. Man. I remember reading in the liner notes that Beanie Mac’s verse (I think ?uest called it his “and ’em” flow? maybe “and them”) was originally fifty bars long and that Jay-Z signed him after hearing him freestyle once. There’s probably some exaggeration in there, but listening to this verse, I can tell why Jay was so hot on him. This verse is heat rocks. It’s half Beans shouting out people he knows and half telling you exactly what type of dude he is. For a debut verse, this is a pretty fantastic effort. I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if Beans had stayed Roots-affiliated rather than signing to the Roc. He probably would’ve quit much sooner than he did, actually, which means no Freeway, which is wack.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but a lot of things I like I discovered via or alongside The Roots. It featured Eve and Beanie Sigel before they were really on. It was the first time I saw Jay Dee, later known as J Dilla, in the credits of an album. (By this point, I’d taken to obsessively reading liner notes to figure out who I needed to be listening to.) I spent a year or two on the Okayplayer boards a little later. Jill Scott’s named showed up in here, I think, and she was on the original version of “You Got Me.” Bilal is or was Roots-affiliated. I was introduced to Rahzel, who I thought was endlessly dope. I’m a sucker for beat boxers, and have been ever since Ready Rock C let the Fresh Prince play a game of Donkey Kong. I hadn’t heard Common before “Act Too (The Love Of My Life),” and this was one of the first times I heard Mos Def outside of Black Star. I think I maybe had that first Lyricist Lounge tape at the time, which Black Thought actually has a freestyle on. That timeline is a little fuzzy, and the narrative doesn’t really matter, anyway. At the time, though, Things Fall Apart was seismic. And that’s not even mentioning the black history implications of the title.

I was real surprised to see Jazzy Jeff on the album, honestly, because I’d assumed he retired. I don’t know if I’ve ever said so, but He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper is one of my most favorite albums ever. To find out that he was involved with something as ill as Things Fall Apart after I thought he was finished with rap was a real nice realization. Which is really the perfect summary of Things Fall Apart. It was a nice thing to experience, something undeniably ill dropped dead in the center of a somewhat fallow period for rap music (unless my memory is way off), and one of my favorite albums to this day. Part of that is hindsight, sure, but then I listen to that sublime stereo blend on “Double Trouble” and remember that Things Fall Apart is just a good album, no qualifiers needed.

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

5 comments to ““i deal with the real” [The Roots – Things Fall Apart]”

  1. Loving this series of articles about The Roots. I had heard they were good, but never really checked them out until I saw them live. They were opening for Dave Matthews Band (yea, I know) and I was seeing them at the old Veteran’s Stadium in Philly. I was blown away by their presence, lyrics and musicality. Then they brought out Carlos Santana for a trio of songs and after I picked my jaw off the ground, I ran to their merch stand and bought anything they’d sell me. Been a fan ever since.

  2. I still can’t get over Jimmy Fallon’s astounding coup of getting them to be his house band.

  3. The Roots: both celebrated and underrated.

    It’s like hip-hop respects them but never really fully embraced them. And Black Thought is one of the best emcees of all time. Hands down.

  4. I’ve loved the Roots since high school, and “Things Fall Apart” was the album that got me back into rap. I remember seeing the video for The Next Movement while in Germany on a student exchange program. I spent the next year and a half trying to find out who the group was, being only able to describe what happened in the video, until one of my friends who was majorly into rap heard me ask and told me who it was. What cemented my love of them was the live album, “The Roots Come Alive,” which was the exact opposite of every growling, horribly mixed, profanity laced, audience hating live rap album I’d ever listened to. Here were a bunch of guys who didn’t care that they were playing for a ton of white dudes in Zurich, seemed to love playing their instruments just for the sake of making music, and really gave a damn about production values. It’s still in frequent rotation 12 years later.

  5. Whenever someone tries to tell me rappers cannot craft quality music, I tell them to listen to Things Fall Apart then come back to me. Nuff Said!

    It isn’t fair to put The Roots in any box. They are Talented Artists With Vision. Nothing else correctly fits them….

    Loving these articles David for how they force me to revisit these albums and why I love/like/dislike/loathe them. I wish more critics could examine works like this.