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Things Fall Apart

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Album Review

One of the cornerstone albums of alternative rap's second wave, Things Fall Apart was the point where the Roots' tremendous potential finally coalesced into a structured album that maintained its focus from top to bottom. If the group sacrifices a little of the unpredictability of its jam sessions, the resulting consistency more than makes up for it, since the record flows from track to track so effortlessly. Taking its title from the Chinua Achebe novel credited with revitalizing African fiction, Things Fall Apart announces its ambition right upfront, and reinforces it in the opening sound collage. Dialogue sampled from Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues implies a comparison to abstract modern jazz that lost its audience, and there's another quote about hip-hop records being treated as disposable, that they aren't maximized as product or as art. That's the framework in which the album operates, and while there's a definite unity counteracting the second observation, the artistic ambition actually helped gain the Roots a whole new audience ("coffeehouse chicks and white dudes," as Common puts it in the liner notes). The backing tracks are jazzy and reflective, filled with subtly unpredictable instrumental lines, and the band also shows a strong affinity for the neo-soul movement, which they actually had a hand in kick-starting via their supporting work on Erykah Badu's Baduizm. Badu returns the favor by guesting on the album's breakthrough single, "You Got Me," an involved love story that also features a rap from Eve, co-writing from Jill Scott, and an unexpected drum'n'bass breakbeat in the outro. Other notables include Mos Def on the playful old-school rhymefest "Double Trouble," Slum Village superproducer Jay Dee on "Dynamite!," and Philly native DJ Jazzy Jeff on "The Next Movement." But the real stars are Black Thought and Malik B, who drop such consistently nimble rhymes throughout the record that picking highlights is extremely difficult. Along with works by Lauryn Hill, Common, and Black Star, Things Fall Apart is essential listening for anyone interested in the new breed of mainstream conscious rap.

Customer Reviews


One of the greatest hip hop albums released. So underrated. So overlooked. 10 stars out of 5. Tough to pick favourites but if i had to: 100% dundee, Diedre vs. Dice, act 2,3,4...and of course you got me..allll good.

Expectedly outstanding!

These guys don't really make bad albums, and this one is no exception. The truth is ever-present in songs like Dynamite and The Spark, but I also like The Next Movement with guest DJ Jazzy Jeff whose skills are generally under-appreciated by younger hip-hop fans, and You Got Me with Erika Badu that has a sweet soulful vibe that gets under your skin. It's alll good!

It's one of the greatest albums in hip hop history

But I was VERY surprise to see it this high. Real Hip Hop 4 Life


Formed: 1987 in Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most prolific rap groups, the Roots were also among the most progressive acts in contemporary music, from their 1993 debut through their conceptual 2010s releases. Despite the seemingly archaic practice of functioning as a rap band with several instrumentalists -- from 2007 onward, their lineup even featured a sousaphonist -- they were ceaselessly creative, whether with their own material, or through their varied assortment of collaborations. They went platinum and gold with successive...
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