The Roots Influence on Today’s Hip Hop

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Elana Sparks, Staff Writer

The Roots is an American hip-hop band formed by Tariq Trotter and Ahmir Thompson in 1987. Their fourth studio album, Things Fall Apart, is named after the novel by Chinua Achebe and has had a crucial impact on modern music. It is hard-hitting, and lyrically stunning and deep. The album focuses on the evolution of hip-hop through the ages and expands what is known as hip-hop by the incorporation of jazz and neo-soul.

The album starts with the track Act Won (Things Fall Apart), with a sample from the movie Mo’ Better Blues. Tariq Trotter spoke with Complex about the meaning of the track, and said, “It spoke to the dilemma or the conundrum we were being presented with at that point in our career. Like, just do one thing, or do something different?” In the movie Mo’ Better Blues, two of the characters argue over the state of jazz music. The sample heavily relates to The Roots still trying to figure out their sound at the time of the album’s release. With three critically acclaimed albums behind them, expectations were high. Were they to continue on the same, safe path they always had or were they to create something groundbreaking?

You Got Me, the fifteenth track on the album, shows that not one track on the album is the same. With striking vocals from Erykah Badu and a simple, but smooth melody, it was undeniably innovative for its time. It perfectly blends neo-soul and hip-hop without disregarding the appeal of either genre. The Roots found massive success from diversifying their sound.

The Roots undoubtedly influenced many artists in the future. One of those artists being the American rapper, Kendrick Lamar. Many fans and critics believe that Things Fall Apart laid the foundation for Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Both albums broadened the horizons of what would be considered hip-hop by focusing on topics such as race, oppression, and politics. The storytelling on To Pimp A Butterfly executed this beautifully, however, Things Fall Apart accomplished it by making a powerful statement. Through Things Fall Apart, The Roots refused to conform to what other hip-hop artists had done in 1999.

Marcus J. Moore, a music journalist from Brooklyn, sat down for an interview with ABC News and spoke about how The Roots influenced To Pimp A Butterfly. He states, “I can’t sit here and say it’s a direct influence, but I am fully confident that, if Things Fall Apart didn’t exist, To Pimp A Butterfly wouldn’t be as successful.” Even now, To Pimp A Butterfly is seen as one of the greatest albums of the decade, and for good reason. If Things Fall Apart was never released, it would have never paved the way for black artists in the future. 

The Roots are not just a hip-hop group from the early 90s. They influenced generations of artists through their unrelenting need to break through the norm. Their beliefs, heritage, and culture can be heard through their music. It is no argument that this record brought upon a change in hip-hop culture, and will continue to for years to come.