The music world lost another great this week. The news broke on the death of Malik B., renowned MC and former member of The Roots, on Wednesday, July 29.
“We regretfully inform you of the passing of our beloved brother and long time Roots member Malik Abdul Basit. May he be remembered for his devotion to Islam and innovation as one of the most gifted MCs of all time. We ask that you please respect his family in our time of mourning,” The Roots said in a statement on Twitter.
Formed in 1987 by Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) and Questlove (Ahmir Thompson), The Roots have held the titles of hip-hop royalty, musicians, producers, and MCs for over three decades. Malik B. was added to the lineup ahead of the band’s first studio release, Organix, in 1993. Their fourth album, 1999’s Things Fall Apart, is widely considered the band’s breakout. Unfortunately, it was also the last to include Malik B. as a full-time member, although he would come back to be featured in tracks on 2006’s Game Theory. Malik B. also released two albums of his own in work: Street Assault in 2005 and Unpredictable, a collab with Mr. Green, in 2015.
“In friendly competition with you from day one, I always felt as if I possessed only a mere fraction of your true gift and potential. Your steel sharpened my steel as I watched you create cadences from the ether and set them free into the universe to become poetic law, making the English language your bitch. I always wanted to change you, to somehow sophisticate your outlook and make you see that there were far more options than the streets, only to realize that you and the streets were one … and there was no way to separate a man from his true self.” Black Thought wrote on Instagram.
Rather than react to his death, we’d rather reflect on his life. Here are five songs we’re listening to right now.
“Water” by The Roots
The first song doesn’t feature Malik, but it was dedicated to him on the first album from The Roots following his departure. Black Thought’s lyrics allude to Malik B.’s struggle with addiction as the reason for the latter leaving the band.
I just took it in stride as part of the game
But inside people down with me started to change
It was a couple things, lil’ syrup, lil’ pills
Instead of riding out on the road you’d rather chill
I know the way a pleasure feel, I’m not judging
But still I’m on a mission, yo, I’m not buggin’
“Distortion to Static” by The Roots
Do You Want More?!!!??! (1994)
It’s nearly impossible to pick your favorite lines from any artist, but there’s something about Malik B.’s verse that just sticks. As Blueprint said on Twitter, it’s simply a “classic.”
Now, go get your dictionary and your Pictionary
‘Cause much affliction with my diction friction slips and carries
Words and herds like some cattle in the steeple
People, there’s no equal, or no sequel
So policies, of equalities get abolished
Demolished, distortion of the static’s gettin’ polished
“Mellow My Man” by The Roots
Do You Want More?!!!??! (1994)
Questlove put it perfectly in an article for Okayplayer, the music site he co-founded: “The optimism and feeling of December 24, 1993, trumps the actual results, so when I think ‘Mellow My Man’ I think of the day we recorded it … I mean the song is cute and all, but the memories do it for me.” This song brings back memories.
Yes, The Roots layin back, rela-xin
Coolin out with my man Malik B
We call him Sla-xon
“100% Dundee” by The Roots
Things Fall Apart (1999)
While Things Fall Apart is probably best known for “You Got Me” with Erykah Badu and Eve (and Jill Scott for live performances), this is what we’re jamming right now. It’s a wonderful showcase of the combined powers of Black Thought and Malik B.
People wanna know where Malik, he right next to me
The weaponry, the secret recipe
The Milli-illitant-tant, ‘pon cock, ready to rock
Power out, in the clout, it seems out, all through your block
Posse don’t play the cut, but what, you get sheist
Got the personality named trife, ready to heist
Smashin ‘graphs, snatch the ice, crush your mental device
Thought twice, shoulda thought once, got played for the dunce
Dialogues I moderate, cool out, we outta state
Just blend and integrate, give me room to ventilate
“We Gonna Make It” by Malik B & Mr. Green feat. Nate Green
We’re ending on a high note. In spite of the obstacles, Malik B. made it.
They told me that I wouldn’t make it past twenty-five
I heard the grass green when seen on the sunny side
I keep my cool now, playin’ by the rule now
Used to be hard-headed but not nothin’ to prove now
Maneuver over terrain and go against the grain
We take it all the way to the end zone, make a change