As I listened several times to “Things Fall Apart” by The Roots, it was one of those albums that was relatively easy to listen to, and given their powerful pedigree and some other songs of theirs that I love that are not on this album, I really wanted to like it more than I actually did. I think it comes down to this for me… I think of Questlove and the band as such a musically gifted act, and while this is all good low-fi hip-hop, I think I was hoping for more musicality and catchy hooks. This album is considered their breakthrough release, and it is rated #416 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
As one would expect, it is certainly a top-notch production, but perhaps it is slightly more stripped down than I would have liked. As it turns out, I didn’t really know any of these songs in advance. Therefore, it is nothing more than a big coincidence that my two favorite tracks on the album are the two tracks released as singles. “The Next Movement”, featuring an unexpected appearance from DJ Jazzy Jeff, is probably the funkiest and most alluring track on the album. On the opposite end of the spectrum is another track that is pretty much exactly what I was hoping to find on this record, “You Got Me”. It is a slower-tempo song with an inviting acoustic guitar and a stunning vocal accompaniment from Erykah Badu. I absolutely love how this New York hip-hop and musical community all collaborate to lift each other up.
One of the more jarring tracks is “The Return to Innocence Lost”, a spoken word track featuring Ursula Rucker. It is a sad tale of family dysfunction, betrayal, violence, and abuse, with a small sliver of hope. You can tell throughout this entire record this is a band and collection of artists with substance and real impact, and again, why I have such respect for The Roots, even if I didn’t love this album quite as much as later performances, such as the song “The Seed (2.0)” that comes from the 2002 album Phrenology. Like always, I’m better for the time spent here, and enjoyed hearing them as they ascended to superstar status.