Tag Archives: philadelphia

Album of the Week: “Things Fall Apart” by The Roots

things

By: Gus Navarro

Ever since the Roots Crew became the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2007, they have been everywhere. Since 2007 they have released four studio albums: How I Got Over, Wake Up! (With John Legend), Betty Wright: The Movie (With Betty Wright) and Undun. Furthermore, Questlove gigs as a DJ every chance he gets, writes biographies and made Twitter cool. Black Thought backs up hip-hop royalty on Fallon, slays bars on tracks such as “Bird’s Eye View” and is very involved with his community Foundation called GrassROOTS.

On top of all of this, the Legendary Roots Crew has seen their annual two-day festival called “The Roots Picnic” grow, have given back to the Philadelphia community and hosted huge, nationally televised Fourth of July jam concerts. They are everywhere, splitting time between NYC, Philly, going on tour and putting out amazing music. In fact, this fall they are set to release another collaborative effort, this time with Elvis Costello, and have another full length album on the way.

This past April, their album Things Fall Apart officially reached platinum status. Released in 1999, Things Fall Apart is at times raw, yet polished. Considering how the Root’s career has changed over time, their classic record still has much to offer and sheds a great deal of light on how the group has managed to keep their creative integrity.

Recorded at the height of the Soulquarians era and featuring a slew of artists, Things Fall Apart has so much to offer by way of lyricism and musicality. There are tracks such as “You Got Me” with Erykah Badu and Eve that beautifully describe the love and the trust needed for a functional relationship. On “Step Into The Realm,” “Adrenaline” and “and “Without A Doubt” Malik B., Dice Raw and Black Thought drop unforgettable lines. Meanwhile, Common and Yasiin Bey (f.k.a. Mos Def) drop by to contribute two of the more memorable tracks, “Act Too…Love Of My Life” and “Double Trouble.” There is even space made for Ursula Rucker to read her hauntingly picturesque poetry on “The Return To Innocence Lost”, describing abuse and grief in the way only poetry can.

From a production standpoint Questlove’s drums are on point, always providing the perfect balance of kick and snare. The keyboards and guitar sounds are blended perfectly with the heavy hip-hop boom bap with help from James Poyser and D’angelo. There is assistance from the likes of Scott Storch and J Dilla on the production side. However, let’s not forget that we are talking about the Roots and live instrumentation was used.

In the end, Things Fall Apart is considered a hip-hop classic and arguably the best album by the Legendary Roots Crew. In my opinion, this is absolutely true but there is more to this record. Things Fall Apart serves as an example of the commitment to quality ingrained within the Roots psyche. They may be moving at a thousand miles an hour but they are still willing to take the time to ensure that what is associated with the Roots is worth a listen, watch or read. Things Fall Apart is a testament to this mind-set.

Must-Listens

“Double Trouble”

“You Got Me”

“Without a Doubt”

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Album of the Week: “Violent by Design” by Jedi Mind Tricks

JMT-Violent-Design-DELUXE-600x600

Jedi Mind Tricks
Violent by Design
Superegular Records, 2000

Daniel’s Thought

The first thing you hear on Violent by Design’s first full-length track, “Retalitation”, is a rolling bass backdrop, stern percussion and contained scratches that surface throughout the song. On the next track “Contra,” the production takes a turn with quick-clicking piano swells, a much skinnier percussion drop, and a bass line that holds whole notes like a foul-mouthed idiot with a dropping jaw. Layered in the background are samples ranging from Gang Starr to Nancy Sinatra, and by the end of the song, the reverberating beat halts and hesitates as if egging the listener on from the production studio.

It’s here where Violent by Design truly shines. Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind is the cohesive force that holds everything together, and by delivering a fresh range of complex and artistic production he at the same time manages to keep everything in the same spectrum. Stoupe’s scratching brings in a wave of barren yet fulfilling beats, and songs like “Speech Cobra” and “Heavenly Divine” fill the speakers like haunting cuts from a membrane dislodging horror film.

To simplify this record to a Stoupe cut would be to ignore the well-versed lyricism spread throughout. Most of Violent by Design contains sociopolitical aberration disguised in fancy wordplay, but it’s the approach and technique that Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah, along with about a million add-ons, bring to the record. Most of the AOTP collective sound similar to moderate Wu-Tang hooks, but these MCs supply a unique sound and cadence that only they can claim.

As an underground hip-hop record, Violent by Design stands both entertaining and influential on its musical throne. The production is deep and complex with swirling backgrounds and stern sounds that slap the back of the listener’s neck hairs, while at the same time staying constructed in a conceptual box. The lyricism walks a fine line between rugged and politically fueled, but it’s here where some of the best bars are spit. In all, Jedi Mind Tricks feels like underground gangsta rap without the gangsta image, and the songs stretch over dark and political themes while retaining a humorous cusp that adds to the album’s variation (“Ya’ll got fucked up like sex on an airplane”).

Gus’ Thought

Released in 2000, Violent by Design, the second LP from Jedi Mind Tricks, came out along with heavyweight records such as Let’s Get Free, Like Water For Chocolate, Train Of Thought, The Marshall Mathers LP, and Stankonia. All of these albums were an important contribution to the ever-changing sound of hip-hop as we entered the 21st century.  While not as well known by mainstream fans, the Philadelphian group consisting of Vinne Paz, Jus Allah and ex-producer Stoupe, Jedi Mind Tricks stands as a force to be reckoned in the underground hip-hop scene.

In its essence, Violent by Design is a tour de force of hard-hitting lyricism from Jus Allah and Vinne Paz, along with a bevy of heavy-weight underground MCs, namely Esoteric and Virtuoso. As the album transitions from track to track the aggressive approach from the group is fully exhibited as each MC raps about the streets, metaphysical ideologies and Islam in their own, unique style. Beyond that, Violent by Design is a great example of the artistry of using words to tell stories that illicit a response from the listener and smack people across the face with their content. It is easy to put words on a page or in a verse. However, it is extremely difficult to use these words in such a way that is provoking and brash, yet poetically stunning. Tracks such as “Retaliation,” “Contra,” and “Blood Reign” are perfect examples of how this can be done. Take B.A. Barakus’ line in “Blood Reign,” “Eat MCs like Chupacabra was eating cattle/ Defeat diseases with palabras, frequently in battle.” Chief Kamachi’s description of his very own rhyming skills accentuates the degree to which stunning lyricism exists in this album, “I’m the best to finesse textures/ My rhyme fabric is elaborate, scrolls kept in a gold cabinet/ Open the book to the chapter of this old soul magic/ Juju tongue to voodoo come, behold this untold havoc.” While almost every line on this record will leave your mouth wide open and hitting the repeat button, they would not sound nearly as provocative without the brilliance of Stoupe’s production.

The genius of Stoupe is in his ability to craft beats that are intricate, but not over the top. There are times when producers can have too much going on and overshadow everything else that is happening on the track. With Stoupe this is not the case as he sets the tone with kicks, snares and samples for each MC and provides the perfect accompaniment to what is happening lyrically. Using samples from films such as Antz and Apocalypse Now, Stoupe is able to create the forceful percussive sounds that are needed for the intensity of the material rapped about on Violent By Design. Tracks such as “Sacrifice,” “The Deer Hunter,” “I Against I,” and  “Ghengis Khan” would be best listened to while walking the streets of your city on a brisk winter evening, feeling the chill of the icy air as the beats and lyrics take you to another level of consciousness.

Y2K was a big year for music as Dead Prez, Common, Reflection Eternal, Outkast, Eminem, Wu-Tang Clan, Deltron 3030, Ludacris and countless others all released albums that are regarded as hip-hop classics. These artists are some of the best out there and they deserve all the credit in the world for the work they put in and the impact they had on hip-hop. That being said, a group such as Jedi Mind Tricks deserves much more recognition as Violent by Design showcases a myriad of underground talent and a frame of mind not commonly found in hip-hop.

Must-Listen (apologies for the “babygrandrecords” intro and shout-outs in each song clip. They own JMT videos on Youtube)

“Heavenly Divine”

“Death March”

“Contra”

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