records are treated as though they are disposable,"
says a voice on the Roots' fourth album, Things
Fall Apart (MCA). As their name suggests,
the Roots have worked against this view since they
started out in 1987 playing covers of classic hip-hop
and rap at talent shows and on the streets of their
native Philadelphia. In recent years, the Roots
have— promoted their view of rap history in
their live shows by covering artists like Run-DMC,
Doug E. Fresh and Eric B. and Rakim: they call it
their own songs, the Roots combine instrumental
prowess with improvisational skill instead of relying
on borrowed samples. This mix of jazzy riffs with
Black Thought's rhymes results in mid-tempo songs
which—while carefully modulated—always
seem about to explode. Gadfly spoke
to Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) after a marathon
studio session to finish final mixes on Things
has the sound changed between Illadelphia Halflife
and Things Fall Apart?
sound hasn't really changed as much as it has broadened.
It's become more refined, and it's more universal.
do you mean by the phrase "organic hip‑hop
I say organic, and when I say jazz, I just mean
music, like hip-hop music, in its rawest form: no
additives, no preservatives, grown from the foundation
you tour on this record, are you going to do Hip‑Hop
little. We do a taste of that now, but many other
bands have run with it. It served its purpose.
has coming from Philadelphia influenced your sound?
Did you know Schooly D or any of the old Philly
I never knew any of those guys until we were already
on. The one way Philly helped my sound is that it
wasn't music central. There wasn't really a strong
scene there, and so we had to be doubly skilled.
We had to be extra dope with the lyrics and extra
advanced musically in order to make some noise,
because we were coming from Philly.
sort of music influences you now? What are you listening
listening to Stan Getz and to a bunch of the new
drum and bass shit that people are doing.
you see the future of hip‑hop moving toward
drum and bass?
I don't really see that. I see drum and bass as
its own genre; it's a break beat, speeded up and
chopped up. In hip‑hop, a break beat should
never be chopped up. It's all relative to the way
you prepare it—the way you prepare the meal
is how it's going to taste. Hip-hop is hip-hop,
drum and bass is drum and bass.
don't use sampling on your albums. Why?
have used sampling on every record. But no record
that we put out has been predominantly samples.
Most of the time we are sampling ourselves. We will
come up with an original move, play it, sample it
and then loop it. The fact that we are able to play
our own music brings a different flavor into the
mix, kind of like the Beastie Boys do their shit,
you know what I mean?
you tape yourselves jamming and then pick something
out of that you like, loop it and make a song out
When we do samples, we are sampling ourselves. That's
how we are still able to say we are 100% live.
also put a heavy emphasis on your live shows. Would
you consider doing a live album?
definitely would and will do a live album and/or
a live feature like a film short. Hip‑hop
was founded in live performance. They was rocking
over other people's records, live at a party.
you do a show that was completely freestyle?
I? I've done millions of shows that have the free
your lyrics come out of your biography?
great deal of them do. It comes from information
that I'm taking in on a day-to-day basis. Not really
anything I have been conditioned with, but I could
walk down the street and look at everything and
just rhyme about that. Look at people's interactions,
look at different inanimate objects, look at the
flow of traffic, the sound of the street, all of
that; once you get out there, it's fun.
about a character like Alana from "The Hypnotic."
is a fictitious character. I'm sure she was inspired
by some real person, but I can't really recall it.
It's part of musicianship—my being a lyricist—to
be able to come up with a story about one person,
or any particular group of people, what took place,
and it should come off like an actual event. Any
story that I write about a person, I make up out
of my head. I don't really write rhymes dealing
with relationships—like "Silent Treatment,"
"The Hypnotic," and on this album, the
song "You Got Me"—about my true
Fall Apart. Could you talk a little about why
you chose that title?
Fall Apart represents the state of music in
general right now and how things are stagnant. No,
I take that back, I wouldn't say things are stagnant.
Things are moving swiftly, but it's in the wrong
do you mean?
just deal with hip‑hop: that's my demographic.
I make hip‑hop first and foremost. The shit
that's coming out that people are calling hip‑hop,
music purists wouldn't consider hip‑hop music
at all, because a lot of it goes against all ethics
of the original art form. First and foremost, hip-hop
is about being original. Ninety percent of this
shit that I hear on the radio, or at a club, or
thumping out of people's cars is some unoriginal
shit: formulated, and just recycled and recycled.
Nobody is making any more original music, to the
point where we are exhausting all of our resources.
Everything you hear, you immediately know who originally
made the music, you immediately realize that the
original record that the music came from was far
better. It's a step down, and that's not adding
on, that's not bringing shit to the table. The principles
of hip‑hop mean adding on like this: I got
this dope style that nobody ever used before, or
I thought of this shit and I thought of this rhyme,
or I thought of how to break the syllables down
this way. That is what hip‑hop is about, and
that has long been lost. It's about motherfuckers
bringing that shit back. So that is what I'm talking
Fall Apart is going to have five different album
covers. Can you talk about the covers that you have
chosen to use?
selected five images that we thought in a nutshell
comprised the times. On none of the covers do you
see the group pictured. Each image has a million
different things to say of its own.
is the bombing at Hiroshima?
is the LAPD beating people, another is a poker player
who has been shot to death, another a church destroyed
by arson, and then there is a starving child. You
obviously see the world as in a crisis place right
without doubt, without doubt. I think anyone who
is able to go on in this day and time as if the
world is not in a state of crisis is living under
some delusion. That's just reality.
make positive references to smoking marijuana and
then make negative references to Ecstasy, cocaine
and other drugs. Do you see a difference?
blunts has contributed to the downfall of the city
and the world as well. I think it's all relative.
The reason I come off like that is because I smoke
herb and I don't do any other drugs. I just deal with
the real. I smoke a lot of herb. I won't tell any
children or anybody else to smoke herb. I don't promote
it like that. But that is just where I'm coming from,
that's what I do. So in my music when I'm speaking
about how I live, I'm not going to front.
talk a lot about dropping your lyrical signs and
leaving your legacy for humanity. What exactly is
the legacy that you want to leave?
legacy that I really am interested in leaving is
a rich musical history. First and foremost, I want
to be known as a musician. Just as long as my shit
to some people is their favorite shit, then I feel
like my legacy is cool. I'll be peace if I can have
it like that.