Today marks an important day in the vibrant history of hip-hop music. 10 years ago, Philadelphia hip-hop pioneers The Roots released their breakthrough album, Things Fall Apart. Bolstered by the strength of the irresistible single "You Got Me," featuring the vocals of Erykah Badu,Things Fall Apart became The Roots' most fully realized work to date, marrying the sophisticated instrumental stylings of the band with their adamant penchant for political activism. The Roots were never afraid to attack the social norms with their music, and Things Fall Apart solidified their place as activists and mouthpieces for the underrepresented segments of society. The total importance of a piece of art like Things Fall Apart falls short of what most words can describe, but its 10 years on this earth have helped it solidify its place among the most important -- and accomplished -- hip-hop albums of all time.
Things Fall Apart starts with its provocative yet transcendent album cover depicting police officers chasing two young, black teenagers down a street in the New York neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant during the Civil Rights Movement era. The look on the young lady's face -- that of fear, desperation -- marks the fact that the cover will go down as one of the greatest album covers of all time, and it is the perfect visual aid to the aural dominance that emanates once the album begins. The album opens with a sample of a conversation between Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes about the current state of African-American music -- a conversation taken from Spike Lee's 1990 film Mo' Better Blues. It serves as the perfect introduction to The Roots for those who aren't familiar with their work and their message. The Roots were a band who never stopped to gauge the current state of hip-hop -- they always did their own thing, never giving in the the super glitzy, glamorous state of radio-friendly hip-hop in the late 90's.
Their creativity and their passion for pure hip-hop comes to a head throughout Things Fall Apart, and no song better signifies the capabilities of the album than the track "Ain't Sayin' Nothin' New." The song is -- corny as it may sound -- smooth as silk, combining ?uestlove's pitch-perfect drumming with brooding, jazzy keyboards. The tone of the song is dark and Black Thought's vocals are met with the guest contribution of Dice Raw, adding a harder sound to Thought's more relaxed, laid-back style. It is also the best song to ever name-drop both Greg Ostertag and Ted DiBiasie.
Things Fall Apart was both a critical and financial success for the band. It is certified gold by the RIAA and it earned them a Grammy for best rap performance by a group or duo for "You Got Me." The album marks the band's maturation into their later, politically relevant albums while foreshadowing their insatiable talent for producing smooth tracks drenched in soul and R&B. Their legacy as superb live performers will always live on in infamy -- more so now that they will start their tenure as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a week from tonight -- but Things Fall Apart solidified the band's legend for producing strong, smart studio albums.
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We are all blessed -- those of us familiar with Things Fall Apart -- to have been influenced by the album. It stands tall today, 10 years later, as one of the hallmarks of late 90's - early 2000's hip-hop. The Roots continue their prolific career as performers and activists, releasing new albums such as Phrenology, The Tipping Point and Rising Down -- all amazing and accomplished in their own regard. However, I can't help but hear the influence that Things Fall Apart had on their career and the influence it has their ever-evolving, pioneering hip-hop sound.