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The State of Hip Hop: How Things Fell Apart (The Roots Anniversary)

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The Story

The Roots were already a well know group; however Things Fall Apart received rave reviews even from critics of other genres. Ironically, I think one of the things that was significant about this album were the covers. There were 5 different covers selected and they all were so compelling. The main cover that can now been found on most productions of the album is a scene from the 1960’2 riots in Bedford Stuyversant.

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Bedford-Stuyvesant Riots

The other covers were:

World War II attack in Japan

World War II attack in Japan

Hand of the murdered Mafia boss Guiseppe Masseria

Hand of the murdered Mafia boss Guiseppe Masseria

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Burned Church

Crying Child

Crying Child

These provocative covers chosen by Kenny Gravillis combined with the album’s title taken from the well known piece of literature by Chinua Achebe and Things Fall Apart had the media’s attention.

The Allusions

The first thing to note is the album’s title which is taken from the canonized piece of literature by Chinua Achebe. One of the major themes of the novel is the struggle between tradition and change. The album came out in 1999 when America was undergoing some significant changes due to a boom in the economy. It is is also where the group’s mindset was at the time.

It spoke to the dilemma or the conundrum that we were being presented with at that point in our career. Like, just do one thing, or do something totally different? That’s where we were at that point in time. I don’t know that very much has changed. But in using that sample was the statement we were making.

-Black Thought, Complex Music Interview (about creating Things Fall Apart)

The impact of using such as novel as this and the cover art that was chosen set the scene for The Roots to make a manumental statement to which even the media had to pay attention. I remember when I first saw tha CD in the store I felt like I kind of knew this album was saying something – that it was going to mean something.

The Album

The Act Wun interlude introduces the album’s theme with a sample from mo better blues in which Denzel and Wesley Snipe’s character debate about the state of Black music. Denzel’s character takes the opinion that ignorance about heritage and the lack appropriating our own culture is at the heart of the problem while Wesley Snipes’ character feels that people simply buy the music they like. A common debate to be had regarding Hip Hop music and also one to be had concerning the world. In line with tradition with all Hip Hop music Things Fall Apart reflected to us the underlying truth of its environment through musical composition. The world was on the verge of a change that would not be recognized for years to come and this is one of the albums that helps to chronicle that shift.

The Point

Things Fall Apart is an album worth remembering not just for what it did for an iconic Hip Hop group but also because it serves as a historical marker for a space that we as Americans once occupied: on the verge of change. The decision to go forward into the unknown with only the memories of the past. Forging the future is no easy task and things are certain to change. Maybe even fall apart. But what is certain is that after all that has happened we will never be the same. While things do fall apart…they come together again.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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