The Roots’ debut album Organix officially turned 30 years old on May 19. When most fans associate a classic album with The Roots, they think of 1999’s Things Fall Apart. Their fourth studio album, many largely accredit the record to shifting the intersection between jazz and hip-hop for good. However, there was a decade-long process to Things Fall Apart, which all started with their debut project Organix. It kicked off the beginning of one of the most influential hip-hop groups ever. Nowadays, the group is the iconic driver of sound for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
In 1992, the group was looking to get out of their hometown to exist in a better creative space for their debut project. The initiative would lead them to the cloudy streets of London, where The Roots spent a year perfecting Organix. Through underground concerts, the city was introduced to the sharp MC Black Thought and the personality-filled afro behind drummer Questlove. Questlove was anything but a worldwide sensation. With The Roots still an underground London outfit, they would attempt to sell their CDs to concertgoers in person.
The Roots’ Organix Attracted The Attention Of Major Labels
The Roots’ entrepreneurial efforts to promote Organix did just enough to attract major record labels to begin knocking on their door. Two years later, they would release their debut studio album Do You Want More?!!!??!. As a result, many believe that Do You Want More?!!!??! is the first album the rap-jazz outfit ever released. Organix exists in a world of hip-hop imagination rather than concrete numbers. The project is nowhere to be found on streaming services such as Spotify. However, it’s worth looking back on The Roots’ Organix, a record that set the groundwork for their critically acclaimed career.
Featuring 17 songs, Organix blatantly stands out from the field of 90s hip-hop by the end of the first track. “The Roots is Comin’” features a tantalizing bassline and live drums, with Black Thought shouting out his Philadelphia upbringing. In fact, Black Thought and Questlove initially met while attending high school in Philly. You can hear this intimacy in the sound of The Roots. Initially formed in 1987, their debut project culminated years of experimentation and struggle after heading home from class. You can hear this rawness in the sound of Organix. Dense and layered, it’s easy for the listener to imagine themselves listening to the group in an enclosed recording studio.
The Roots Existed In Their Own World
Organix’s reputation as a jaded demo tape doesn’t fit with the fearless artistic direction of the record. The Roots’ sound never fit in with the foreboding landscape of hip-hop in the early ’90s. In an era of tense competition, many of their East Coast contemporaries were rapping aggressively over boom-bap beats. Intricate drum patterns took the forefront, with MCs rambling about the overcrowded streets of Brooklyn. On the West Coast, Dr. Dre was popularizing the G-funk sound. Better reflecting the laid-back nature of the California beaches, the sound was more melodic compared to the grittiness of the East Coast. However, each legion had their guns pointed at the other.
The Roots existed in their own world outside of the West vs. East Coast battles. Instead, they emphasized live instrumentation, which delivered an utterly unique sound for the time. Of course, Black Thought was on the mic with Questlove on the drums. However, you also had Lenard Hubbard’s bottom-heavy bass work and the compelling keyboard notes from Scott Storch. The group wasn’t exactly the first to integrate jazz into their sound. A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, and Digable Planets displayed an infatuation for the genre. The Roots were clearly inspired by these groups. However, they were the first to implement jazz in a headfirst, mainstream manner.
The Roots Helped Popularize Hip Hop-Jazz Fusion
While Organix would be outdone by plenty of respective projects from The Roots, its importance in setting the groundwork for their later works can’t be denied. Black Thought is playful on Organix, sometimes sounding blatantly off-beat. However, the messiness of the record is both a detractor and an appeal. It’s a nostalgic mess at its best. The captivating loops of Questlove set the stage for Things Fall Apart and Phrenology.
To this day, The Roots are hailed as the unsung heroes of hip-hop. Having secured a gig as Jimmy Fallon’s background band on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, The Roots would finally enter the mainstream. Impressively, they were able to do it while staying true to themselves. In particular, lead MC Black Thought has had an iconic solo career. A critical rapper on 2022’s Cheat Codes, the album of the year effort proved that the 50-year-old remains one of the best MCs out. Black Thought truly is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, a legacy that began in the streets of London with Organix.
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