Over the years hip-hop has given the world a bunch or really dope groups: De La Soul, EPMD, Brand Nubian, Gang Starr, and Outkast, just to name a few. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned several times while doing this blog that A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite hip-hop group of all time. In an industry filled with gangster posturing and tough guy talk, I’ve always loved and appreciated their common man/introspective brand of hip-hop. But if ATCQ is my favorite group of all time, The Roots are a close second.
The Roots (who originally called themselves The Square Roots, but later dropped the “Square”, as another band was using the name) original started with only two members. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, met in the late eighties while in high school in West Philly. As Questlove explains in his memoir Mo” Meta Blues (which is a good read for any of my book lovers out there), he and Thought came from two completely different background (Quest grew up in a sheltered Christian two parent home, while Thought was bastard street kid), but Quest’s respect for Thought’s virtuoso rhyming ability, Thought’s respect for Quest’s skillful drumming, and their love of hip-hop, gave the two a common ground to build their relationship and music on. Eventually the duo started performing together on the streets of Philly with Quest drumming on a bucket and Thought rhyming over his rhythms. Over time the duo would add more pieces to their street band (including Scott Scorch, Leonard Hubbard and real instruments), got serious about the music and begin to seek a record deal. Eventually the group made some connections and got the opportunity to do a bunch of shows in Europe. They decided it would be a good idea to record an album that they could sell as merch at these shows, and called the album Organix (the release date is probably not correct, since according to the liner notes, one of the songs on the album (“Essawhamah?”) was recorded live on May 19, 1993. So, I doubt they recorded that song live, went back to the studio for mixing and mastering of the entire album and pressed up the tapes and cd’s all in the same day. Since I wasn’t able to verify the release date anywhere else, I’m rollin’ with Wikipedia’s date. Sorry Ed.). Organix caught the ears of a few labels, which eventually led to them signing a deal with DGC/Geffen Records.
I’ve followed The Roots since their Geffen debut Do You Want More?!!!??! in 1995, but didn’t become hip to Organix (or even know it existed) until well after the new millennium. Thanks to Cargo Records, Organix was re-released in 1998 for fans around the world to buy and listen to the humble beginnings of the legendary Roots crew. Lets listen to it together, shall we?
The Roots Is Comin’ – Organix opens with a simple and melodic mash-up, and a young Black Thought giving us a glimpse of the raw emcee potential that he would soon master.
Pass The Popcorn – Questlove (who sounds like a poor man’s Trugoy from De La Soul on this one) and The Roots’ buddy, Kid Crumb join BT on this mini-cipher joint. And Thought easily raps circles around his less polished compadres (he even comes back and spits a second and final verse, almost as to rub it in their faces). Quest and company’s live instrumentation isn’t great, but decent enough.
The Anti-Circle – The title is kind of clever, considering when this song was recorded they were calling themselves The Square Roots. Over a funky mash-up Black Thought shows more of his blossoming emcee abilities. This was pretty dope.
Writers Block – Over a mediocre instrumental, Black Thought spits a short spoken word piece. He’s definitely more effective as a spitter than as a spoken word artist.
Good Music (Preclude) – Thought spits a quick animated verse over some Questlove drums, which leads into the next song…
Good Music – Thought’s animated rhymes are all over the place (Kid Crumb makes a brief contribution to Thought’s final verse), but the smooth instrumental lives up to the song’s title.
Grits – “Grits” is The Roots’ slang word for “skinz”, which didn’t really catch on or stick (no pun intended). Malik B (who would soon become Robin to Black Thought’s Batman on The Roots’ next album), Mr. Greene and Possey Plant join Thought as they playfully brag about the amount of grits they get, and poke fun at each other about their lack of grits consumption. The band hooks up a decent enough backdrop, and this ends up a being a cute little record, I guess.
Leonard I-V – The Roots hook up a moody backdrop that Thought flips all over (“and I believe it’s destiny that I got put, in a position to throw lyrics like a shot put, yo, no matter the circumstance, Thought can always make you dance, like ya got the hibbie-jibbies or a hot foot”). The song title must be an inside thing, but this is probably my favorite song on Organix .
I’m Out Deah – If you first became familiar with The Roots from their second album Do You Want More?!!!??! (like myself), than you may recognize the dope after hours jazz groove on this one from the intro on their sophomore effort. Black Thought rips the shit out of it, showing more glimpses of the rhyming virtuoso he would soon become.
Essawhamah? (Live At The Soulshack) – This was also included on Do You Want More?!!!??!. Well sort of. The mash-up is slightly different, and Thought’s rhymes and skats are different. Must be a spontaneous thing they improvised at live shows, and according to the liner notes this version was recorded at a show in Slovenia, Yugoslavia (which the liner notes in Organix misspell as “Ugoslavia”).
There’s A Riot Going On – Short interlude of someone snoring. I’m not sure what the hell this was about, but whatever.
Popcorn Revisited – As the title suggest, this kind of works as a remix to “Pass The Popcorn”. Questlove and company provide a hard instrumental with a menacing bass line. Thought rolls solo with the rhymes, as he regurgitates his first verse and Questlove’s verse from the original, before adding a new third verse. This was okay.
Peace – Another Black Thought spoken word piece that I could do without.
Common Dust – The hook would lead one to believe that this song is about the frailty of man, but Black Thought and Kid Crumb’s rhymes are so abstract I’m not sure what they’re rapping about. I love The Roots instrumental work on this one, though. Especially Chuck Treece’s sick guitar licks.
The Session – The Roots invite their extended Philly family and crew, known as The Foreign Objects, to join them on what may be the longest posse cut in the history of hip-hop, as 10 different emcees (AJ Shine, Lord Akill, Mr. Manifest, Shorty (the female emcee who I first became familiar with on a few contributions she made to De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate, which was also released in ’93, and I’ll be covering it in the near future), Myself(??), Possey Plant, Mr. Armstead (whose alias I can’t quite make out in the introduction), Malik B, Questlove and Thought) grace the mic on a cipher that goes on for nearly thirteen minutes (12 minutes and 43 seconds to be exact, which The Roots felt the need to document in the liner notes). Unfortunately none of the emcees really impress (including Black Thought) and the instrumental is drab, so it makes the thirteen minutes a pretty painful listen.
Syreeta’s Having My Baby – Again, the title must be and inside thing (unfortunately at this point Questlove wasn’t putting detailed info for each song in the liner notes, so the listener is left in the dark to the meaning). It’s basically a short and decent instrumental mash-up.
Carryin’ On – Over an instrumental that sound suited for the circus, Black Thought and company end Organix with a little horse-play. And we’re done.
Like I mentioned in the intro, my introduction to The Roots was their sophomore album Do You Want More?!!!??! back in 1995. And that is an album I still hold in high regard today. I didn’t purchase Organix until about 8 years ago, and when I initially listened to it I thought it sounded amateurish compared to the rest of their catalog, so I kind of wrote it off as trash. Fast forward to today, and after several listens the past few weeks, I’m changing my story. Do You Want More?!!!??! set the standard high. And even though the grooves aren’t as tight, at times it sounds too experimental, and Black Thought (who in my opinion is the most underrated emcee of all time and deserves a spot on your top 10 list…yeah, I said it!) was still a little wet behind the ears as an emcee, there are some bright moments on Organix , even if you have to dig a little deeper than usual to find them. No, Organix is not (even close) to being a great album, but it does serve as the foundation and a historical reference point for one of the greatest hip-hop groups, and the greatest hip-hop band, of all time.