Since the independently released 'Organix,' The Roots have maintained their position at the top of hip-hop's list of under appreciated groups. With the radio friendly (by The Root's standards anyway) single 'You Got Me' having its video on heavy rotation and the single 'Adrenaline'/'Don't See Us' appealing to a more underground audience, 'Things Fall Apart' is a heavily anticipated LP. However, its hard to see anyone disappointed by the finished product.
Actors Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes kick off the album, with an intro discussing how hip-hop records are treated, and then you are led into a fine record. Roots fans will notice many similarities to previous releases, with the live instrumentation behind the tracks and intricate rhymes by Black Thought and Malik B. Rahzel's vocal scratching makes its appearance, and 'Illadelph Halflife' guests Common, Dice Raw and Ursula Rucker all come back to drop their verses (or poem in Ursula's case).
Despite these high profile guests, one thing is evident throughout 'Things Fall Apart': Black Thought is highly underrated. With Malik B playing a smaller role on most of the tracks, Black Thought's intelligence and clever lyricism dominates this album, proving himself as one of rap's more consistent lyricists and holding his own with more respected rappers such as Common and Mos Def. His duet with Common, 'Love of My Life,' is a follow up to Common's classic 'I Used to Love H.E.R.,' and stands out as one the better hip hop tracks to come along in a while.
The music on the album is, true to The Root's history, both innovative and fantastic. From the aforementioned 'Love of My Life' to the incredible beats on 'Adrenaline,' the production is both diverse and of a high standard.
The only track that really stands out from the rest is 'Return To Innocence Lost,' a follow up to Ursula Rucker's spoken word 'The Adventures In Wonderland' from the previous LP. The atmospheric production provides an atmospheric backdrop, over which Ursula softly tells a powerful story of abused mother whose son "blamed mom for the wrongs she let daddy do to her and him / lets sins of the father cause his innocence to wander." Although the track may seem out of place among the hip hop the rest of the record is filled with, it fits in with the overall theme of things falling apart, and is a good addition to the rest of the album.
Overall, with the silky smooth production from the band and Black Thought's strong lyrics, 'Things Fall Apart' is the best hip hop release in 1999, and if it isn't in the top 5 albums by the end of the year, then we're in for an amazing 10 months.