To celebrate the release of Eminem’s second studio album “The Slim Shady LP” and The Roots’ fourth studio album “Things Fall Apart” – both of which came out on February 23rd 1999 (HEY, that’s FIFTEEN years ago! Damn, I’m old), I’ve decided to give you – for the first time in this blog’s history – a double album review. So you know what that means? Yep. Get that coffee out (or whatever beverage keeps you stimulated. Alcohol’s always a good option) ’cause this is going to be a pretty LENGTHY write-up. You’ve been warned!
But first, a bit of history. Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, is a Detroit-based rapper/producer/songwriter and once-in-a-blue-moon actor. In August 1996, he released his debut album “Infinite” (a MUST-HAVE for die-hard Eminem fans) which received mixed reviews for its production and praise for Marshall’s rhyming skills, though he was criticized for his lyrical flow sounding similar to that of Queensbridge legend Nasir “Nas” Jones and his collaborator Anthony “AZ” Cruz. Following the release of “Infinite”, Marshall’s personal struggles of alcohol and drug addiction caught up with him. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he returned to the rap game with “The Slim Shady EP” (another MUST-HAVE for die-hard Eminem fans), a darker, more violently over-the-top recording which introduced a manic, high-pitched-voiced persona of his: Slim Shady. On the EP, he explored newer topics like his marital problems with his wife Kim (who had given birth to their daughter Hailie prior to the release of “Infinite”), difficulties with his family (i.e. his absentee father Bruce and his mother Debbie whom, at that time, he accused of neglecting him during his childhood), depression and everyday struggles in making money. After the EP’s release, he did a number of shows with his rap buddies D-12 (which included the late DeShaun “Proof” Holton) and also brought out two non-album singles with Ryan “Royce da 5″9” Montgomery (who would become one half of the duo Bad Meets Evil), one of which was the fucking EXCELLENT “Scary Movies” which made it to….you guessed it….the “Scary Movie” soundtrack. “The Slim Shady EP” caught the ears of a particular hip hop producer/rapper named Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (once the leader of the infamous and influential West Coast rap group N.W.A. or N****s Wit Attitudes), who eventually signed him to his Aftermath Records label. The result was “The Slim Shady LP”, an album which became one of the most popular, and talked-about, albums of 1999, thanks to its shock-value lyrics and controversial subject matter. Six albums, one Academy Award for the ultimate underdog hip hop song “Lose Yourself”, a starring role in the semi-autobiographical drama “8 Mile” (one of my all-time favourite movies), a shitload of controversy and years of soul-searching later, Marshall Mathers is now regarded as one of modern music’s greatest figures and one of the greatest MCs to hold the mic.
The Roots are a Philadelphia hip hop/neo-soul band – and the first of its kind – formed by rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (who has the most AWESOMEST Afro EVER!) back in 1987. Rapper Malik Abdul Basit, or “Malik B.” for short, was added to the band, along with Leonard “Hub” and Josh Abrams. They independently released their first album “Organix” in 1993, which exhibited the band’s jazzy approach to hip hop, with their live instrumentation and free-form lyrics. That album caught the ear of DGC/Geffen Records, and helped secure The Roots’ first record deal. In 1995, they released their debut studio album “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” which saw the inclusion of producer Scott Storch and beatboxer Rahzel into the band’s line-up. A moderate hit upon its release, their first album has grown to be appreciated over the years thanks to its smooth, relaxed, jazzy atmosphere. Their second album “Illadelph Halflife”, released in 1996, was more successful, thanks to its hit single (and accompanying music video) “What They Do”. Ironically, this was the first Roots album I ever listened to and funny enough, it’s my absolute FAVOURITE of all their albums thus far. I loved the live instrumentation, the dark, moody tone and the intelligent, brash lyrical styles of Black Thought, Malik B. and the other MCs who appeared on the album. To me, it perfectly reflected the era of the East Coast-West Coast feud (i.e. 2Pac, Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg vs. Mobb Deep, Nas and The Notorious B.I.G.), where rappers who were perceived as “soft” and “weak” approached the mic with fire and hunger and reminded themselves and others why they were still relevant in the hip hop world (SIDE NOTE: One major example was the equally-dark third album from A Tribe Called Quest: “Beats, Rhymes and Life”). The Roots’ third album “Things Fall Apart”, whose title was lifted from the Chinua Achebe novel of the same name, had the band finding their place in a new era of hip-hop. 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were wrongfully murdered, hip hop became synonymous with the materialistic, “bling bling” culture, and after A Tribe Called Quest split up in 1998, the future of alternative rap was uncertain. Fortunately for The Roots, “Things Fall Apart” was a critical and commercial success, earning the band their first Grammy for the single “You Got Me”. Unfortunately for them, they lost the Best Rap Album Grammy Award to…..you guessed it….”The Slim Shady LP”. Six albums, two Grammy wins later, and a recent gig on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” which turned into (about a week ago) a current gig on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” later, The Roots remain one of the most celebrated rap groups in hip-hop history.
But how do these albums hold up, after fifteen long, arduous ? Let’s find out, shall we?
1. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT – Exactly what the title says it is
2. MY NAME IS – Also known as the song that skyrocketed Eminem into stardom. On his signature track, Em paints a portrait of himself as a fucked-up loser with a crazy, yet vivid imagination. Sarcasm and self-deprecation are prevalent on this track, with a slew of lyrics that poke fun of the media (“Hi kids, do you like violence?”), sex symbols (“Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off / And smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross”), his mother (“99 percent of my life, I was lied to / I just found out my mom does more dope than I do”) and even himself (“All my life, I was very deprived / I ain’t had a woman in years, my palms too hairy to hide”). Em’s high-pitched voice sounds HILARIOUS on this track, even when he’s rapping about twisted, over-the-top shit like stapling his teacher’s “nuts to a stack of paper”! OUCH!! The chorus is catchy as hell, Dr. Dre’s instrumental KNOCKS (especially its funky guitar loops) and the lyricism by Em is captivating (and I mean that as a compliment) from start to finish. “My Name Is” serves as an intriguing look into the warped mind of “Slim Shady”. It really makes you wonder how Em got away with releasing this song on the radio (albeit in a radio-“friendly” format) back in 1999 (*COUGH* ’cause he’s white*COUGH!)
3. GUILTY CONSCIENCE (feat. Dr. Dre) – Three scenarios, each with a different protagonist about to commit a violent or sexual crime, are introduced in a Twilight Zone / Unsolved Mysteries-like voice-over narrative style by Mark Avery. After each introduction, Em and Dr. Dre trade words with each other in what would become one of their finest collaborations. Playing the “bad side” and “good side” respectively, Em and Dre are the voices in each of the protagonists’ heads, telling him the “right” course of action to take in their current situation. While Dre’s advice is fairly rational, Em’s advice is….well…. deviant! The back-and-forth wordplay is entertaining as fuck, especially in the third verse where Dre takes his anger out on Eminem. I especially liked the subtle, “blink and you missed it” jabs between the two, like the lines (“Don’t even listen to Slim yo, he’s BAD for you” – which is a reference to Bad Meets Evil, followed by “You know what, Dre? I don’t like yo ATTITUDE” – which is a reference to….you guessed it….N.W.A.). With a brilliant concept, a mischievous piano-driven beat and wickedly clever lyrics, “Guilty Conscience” is yet another questionable but fantastic hit single from this album.
4. BRAIN DAMAGE – Eminem uses comedy, satire and fantasy to tell a deeply personal and very distressing childhood story about his victimization at the hands of a school bully (D’Angelo Bailey – who actually tried to sue Em for defamation after the album was released) and the neglect he received from his mother and other adults to his plight. This is the first track on the album where Em does the voices of all the other characters in the story – even an exaggerated one of his mother, for example, in a line that always cracks me up (“My mother started screaming, ‘WHAT ARE YOU ON, DRUGS?! / LOOK AT YOU, YOU’RE GETTING BLOOD ALL OVER MY RUG!!”). The downbeat piano-assisted instrumental provided by longtime Eminem collaborators Bass Brothers works well with the song’s underlying sadness. A darkly funny and deeply poignant track.
5. PAUL (skit) – Three songs in and Em’s manager Paul Rosenberg is already displeased at the album’s vile content. I’d stay clear of Paul’s wrong side if I were you, Marshall.
6. IF I HAD – Marshall puts Paul’s advice to good use with a remastered track from “The Slim Shady EP”, On “If I Had”, he sounds tired, frustrated, pissed off and fed up of everything and everyone who’ve gotten in the way of accomplishing his goals. Even when he wishes for a “big-enough ass for the whole world to kiss” in the chorus, there’s no denying the raw honesty and sincerity in his lyrics. Decent track, although in retrospect, the female vocals were unnecessary. I get the use of a female back-up singer in the chorus and outro, but every time I hear her voice, I can’t help but be reminded of mid-1990s rap music where a LOT of songs relied on R&B-like choruses to give them a mainstream appeal (“I represent the streeeeeeeeeet life…..even though I live in the subuuuuuuurbs. I pour a lil’ liquor for my dead goooooooldfish. I just flushed him down the toilet this morniiiiiiiing”). LOLZ.
7. ’97 BONNIE & CLYDE – Another remastered track from “The Slim Shady EP” and the subject of “The Slim Shady LP’s” album cover. “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” (titled “Just the Two of Us” on the EP) is the first song to bring Em’s homicidal, baby momma-murdering urges to life. An official sequel to the highly controversial song “Kim” from “The Marshall Mathers LP” (even though it came out one year after), Em spends the entire duration of the song conversing with his baby daughter Hailie during a nighttime trip to the beach where he disposes of his ex-wife Kim’s body. While the lyrics and sound effects (like the constant chirping of crickets throughout the song) from “Just the Two of Us” remain unchanged, the murky instrumental is replaced with a haunting, cloudy and pleasantly dreamlike beat in this version. Upon first listen, “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” sounds like a sick, demented fantasy placed in a colourfully-wrapped gift box with a big red bow on top of it. But if you look past the extremely dark subtext, the song (at least in my opinion) smartly addresses how parents – and adults in general – fall prey to telling children LIES. Whether it’s the existence of Santa Claus, or the real reason why Dad was kicked out the house, parents love to sugar-coat the harsh reality surrounding their kids’ environment. And who can blame them? But the song’s prominent theme – that unfortunately goes unnoticed – is Eminem’s role as a father. The title “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” refers to the relationship between a father and daughter, and not a boyfriend and girlfriend like Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” did. Eminem has chosen to stay with Hailie through thick and thin – even when he throws her mother’s body into a lake during the song’s climax. Yes, it doesn’t change the intentionally creepy nature of the song, but when you read between the lines (which are REALLY funny – in a twisted kind of way), the song is really about the bonding between a father and his child. Both themes merge together in the intro and outro of the song, where Em re-assures Hailie that he loves her, will always love her, and will always be there for her. While it sounds like the typical things one would expect Marshall to tell Hailie when she was a baby, you can’t help but shake the fact that deep down, he wishes that his father told him the same things, hadn’t left him at such a young age, and most importantly, LOVED him. Think about it. Long-ass analysis aside, this is a FANTASTIC track! Two car trunks up!
8. BITCH (skit) – Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! Just because she’s disgusted by the lyrics on the album so far does NOT make her a bitch! She’s entitled to her own point-of-view. I’m just saying.
9. ROLE MODEL – One of the best Eminem songs EVER conceived! Em goes into competitive mode on this track, as he spits some of the sharpest and wittiest bars I’ve ever heard in a rap song (“You beef with me, I’mma even the score equally / Take you on Jerry Springer and beat your ass LEGALLY!”). With hard drums, vicious punchlines and a KICK-ASS chorus (“Now don’t you want to grow up to be JUST LIKE ME?!”), “Role Model” is loud, ballsy, crazy and freaking AWESOME!
10. LOUNGE (skit) – I can picture myself singing this lounge song at the top of my voice….at a bar…..drunk as hell……and with the extraordinary ability to play an acoustic guitar.
11. MY FAULT – A perfect example of Eminem’s dark, zany humour. On “My Fault”, he recalls an incident (which MAY or MAY NOT be true) where a girl named Susan OD’s on a bag of mushrooms that was shared by Em during a pre-Spring Break rave. This is the one song on the album that is guaranteed to have you ROFLMFAO’ing from start to finish. Seriously! This song is hilarious as fuck! If this song doesn’t teach you about the dangers of ingesting too much ‘shrooms, I don’t know what will. SIDE NOTE: There’s actually a radio edit of this song, ridiculously titled “My Fault (Pizza Mix)”. Do a YouTube search and you’ll find it! Let’s just say instead of a bag of mushrooms, there’s a large pizza with mushrooms on top! GENIUS!!
12. KEN KANIFF (skit) – Yes, most of us have matured from the homophobic vibe of this track, but it is still quite funny. You can skip this track though, if you know you’ll be annoyed by it.
13. CUM ON EVERYBODY – Em’s parody party/club track. He talks a LOT of self-deprecating shit on this track, which works well with the underlying spoofing of the popular party rap and pop songs of the 1990s (Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy with It” anyone?) The title of the track (I mean, “Cum on Everybody”? Seriously?!) and its chorus in particular (with its sensual female vocals) poke fun at those songs. Funny thing is, he doesn’t even talk about partying on this song. Honestly, “Cum on Everybody” is the weakest track on the album from a lyrical perspective, but the fun, groovy instrumental makes the song way more bearable than it actually is.
14. ROCK BOTTOM – From a party song to this……that was odd.”Rock Bottom” was actually recorded two years prior to this album’s release, after Marshall suffered defeat in a major freestyle rap battle in Ohio due to his ‘choking’ on stage. That incident would serve as inspiration for both the opening rap battle scene in “8 Mile” and this song. Em sounds stressed and worn-out on this track, and the instrumental itself, with its disenchanted guitars and mournful ‘angelic’ harmonizing, brilliantly captures his emotions at that moment. You can’t help but feel sorry for B. Rabbit….oops, I mean, the poor guy. Depressing but relatable, “Rock Bottom” proves that there’s more to Eminem than shock value.
15. JUST DON’T GIVE A FUCK – A remastered and remixed track from “The Slim Shady EP”, “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” shows Em unleashing his “new” persona to the world: Slim Shady. In retrospect, it made perfect sense to place this song immediately after “Rock Bottom”, as it shows the “rebirth” of Eminem into his Slim Shady persona. And the title of the track best expresses his mindset at the time as a rapper. He didn’t care and he didn’t give a fuck! He says some hilariously crazy shit on this track, but with a keen sense of lyrical dexterity (“You wacker than the motherfucker you bit your style from / You ain’t gonna sell two copies if you press a double album”). And he sounds FIERY on the Bass Brothers’ harsh, mechanical instrumental. Definitely one of Em’s classic joints.
16. SOAP (skit) – To be perfectly honest, I never got into the soap opera “As the World Turns”, but I was a huge “Young and Restless” fan growing up though.
17. AS THE WORLD TURNS – Heavy bassline, check. Periodic DJ scratches, check. OVER-THE-TOP storytelling by Marshall, CHECK ONE TWO!! Em’s storytelling abilities, which are the main focus on “As the World Turns”, are stretched to the limit on this track. He tells two stories, each moving at BREAKNECK SPEED, about……well……getting back at women he clearly has no respect for. Sure, it’s misogynistic and offensive, but it’s also insanely funny thanks to bar after bar after bar of hysterics. I’m not gonna lie. This is one of my personal favourite Em songs, and it’s probably one of yours too. Admit it! You like that shit, don’t you?!
18. I’M SHADY -With a chorus inspired by the classic Curtis Mayfield song “Pusherman” off the “Super Fly” movie soundtrack, and a surprisingly upbeat instrumental, “I’m Shady” has Marshall differentiating between the persona of Slim Shady and his real self. He intentionally blurs the line between both selves with lines that’ll have you questioning their “credibility”. My absolute favourite of these lines has got to be: “Well, I do take pills, don’t do speed / Don’t do crack, don’t do coke, I do smoke weed / Don’t do smack, I do do shrooms, do drink beer / I just wanna make a few things clear”. Trust me. You don’t get any realer than that!
19. BAD MEETS EVIL (feat. Royce da 5″9) -Marshall joins forces once again with his partner-in-crime Royce da 5″9 in this Western-influenced track. They play the roles of the meanest, baddest lyrical outlaws this side of the Pecos, each with a non-stop delivery of demented, twisted and QUOTABLE lyrics (“I used to be a loudmouth, remember me/ I’m the one who burned your house down, well I’m out now / And this time, I’m coming back to blow your house up / And I ain’t gon’ leave you a window to jump out of”) that sound FANTASTIC over the Mariachi-guitar-assisted instrumental. Speaking of which, the guitars on this track sound vaguely familiar to the ones on the Big Tymers’ (remember them?) 2000 smash single “#1 Stunna”. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. SIDE NOTE: At the near-end of the track, Royce says “See you in hell for the sequel”. That sequel would be the very decent 2011 EP “Hell: The Sequel” by Bad Meets Evil. See?! They told you! They fucking told you!!!
20. STILL DON’T GIVE A FUCK – A grandiose sequel to “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”. Em ends the album with a hard-hitting closer full of angry, unapologetic and defiant lyrics, and little to no concern over who was offended by the album Marshall just doesn’t care, dude! On the third verse, he paints a painfully bitter portrait of himself, with lines that seem to suggest that his birth was a curse (“My worst day on this Earth was my first birthday”, “From the second I was born, my momma lost me” and “I was born during the earthquake”). In this portrait of his, he was put on this Earth to be miserable, and to make others miserable. Even more ironic is that he’s now the child who refuses to grow up, the bully who takes advantages of people in the way he was taken advantage of, and the rap icon he was destined to be. FIN.
And now for the exciting conclusion of “Things Fall Apart”
1. ACT ONE (Things Fall Apart) – Consisting of a euphony of snippets from particular tracks on “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” (“Proceed”, “Lazy Afternoon”, “What Goes On Pt. 7”, “Essaywhuman?!!!??!”, “You Ain’t Fly”, “The Lesson Pt. 1”), and “Illadelph Halflife” (“Clones”), as well as a vocal excerpt from director Spike Lee’s jazz-themed drama (which was one of the few movies to spearhead the jazz rap movement of the early 1990s) “Mo’ Better Blues”, this album intro addresses the relevance of hip hop and jazz in today’s society and the fact that both genres may soon be disregarded and forgotten over time. The gloomy keyboards in the background, along with the disconnection of the sounds on both the left and right channels, give an indication of the moody, experimental vibe of the album. Not a bad way to kick things off.
2. TABLE OF CONTENTS (Parts 1 & 2) – The album/play/novel/whatever begins with a chilly, lo-fi beat (complete with cymbals, hard drums, keyboards and tambourine) for Black Thought to spit fire on. Which he does exceptionally well. The sound disconnection from the intro is applied here, with Tariq’s ad-libs on the left channel and his vocals on the right. In a rather ballsy, man-what-the-fuck move, the track fades out while Tariq is still rapping. “Part 2” begins immediately, with Malik B rapping over a minimalist beat with dusty drums, an underlying popping sound effect and a fucking AWESOME (at least, in my opinion) keyboard chord! Fortunately, Malik’s rhyming doesn’t fade out, but unfortunately his section ends rather quickly – just when I couldn’t get enough of those keyboards. Doo doo doo! Goddamn, I love that sound!
3. THE NEXT MOVEMENT (ft. DJ Jazzy Jeff & Jazzyfatnastees) -The second single from the album, “The Next Movement” has a laid-back jazzy beat, decent lyrics from Black Thought, sweet female vocals from the duo Jazzyfatnastees (who did the chorus on the fantastically haunting “Episodes” off the “Illadelph Halflife” album), and efficient cuts and scratches from DJ Jazzy Jeff (i.e. Will Smith’s partner-in-crime both in their early rap careers and in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, and the guy who got thrown out the house by James “Uncle Phil” Avery—RIP). Fortunately, this song still sounds great, and still holds up to this day, even if its goofy, simplistic music video isn’t as memorable.
4. STEP INTO THE REALM – Though the instrumental on this track was okay, with its plodding, suspenseful pianos and murky drumbeat, it’s not quite a good fit for Malik B. He sounds desperate to breathe life into this instrumental, which seems to dip in and out of consciousness by fading out after every fourth line uttered. And after two verses and a hook, the track still feels incomplete. Maybe a third verse from Black Thought would’ve made this track a lot better. Ah well. At least it sounds good.
5. THE SPARK – Now this is more like it! I LOVE this fucking beat! It’s so incredibly mellow and calm. Malik B’s flow matches the vibe of the beat perfectly, with a great chorus and some stand-out lines thrown into the mix (“I used to live life, like there was no manana / Now I’m treating every breath, like it was your honor”). Though I wasn’t particularly fond of the outro, where Malik obnoxiously repeats the retro-as-hell line “This is what it’s all ABOUT!”, I still enjoyed the hell out this song. This is the type of music to chill out to on a Sunday night, with the lights off and the AC on (or fan if you can’t afford AC). Ahhhh yeeeeeh. It’s THAT kinda shit!
6. DYNAMITE! – Black Thought and Elo the Cosmic Eye (Nandesuka??) – who last collaborated with The Roots on “What Goes On Pt. 7” – team up on this J-Dilla (RIP) instrumental.From the time the catchy-as-hell chorus opens the song, you can tell that they’re having fun on this track. Their braggadocious rhymes and naturalistic flow move smoothly along the groovy, mid-tempo, jazzy beat. A major highlight on the album, “Dynamite!” is not as explosive as the title implies, but it is guaranteed to get your head nodding and your hips moving, even if you’re sitting down in your office chair in front of a desktop computer or laptop listening to the album when you’re SUPPOSED to be doing your work!
7. WITHOUT A DOUBT (ft. Lady B) -From the get-go, this track sets up a sonic canvas for Black Thought and Lady B (one of the earliest female rappers in hip hop history) to pay tribute to old-school hip hop. The highly-popular drumbeat from golden-age rapper Schooly D’s “Saturday Night” (you should definitely check out his 1987 classic “Saturday Night: The Album”, by the way) is used prominently on this track, and Black Thought’s verses are reminiscent of the “I’m better than all you sucker MCs” raps of the 1980s. Even the “Yes, yes, y’all”-inspired chorus by Lady B is a nostalgic, albeit dated, throw-back to that era of rap music. At the final minute of the track, the song shifts into a J-Dilla-ish musical interlude/jam session. It’s nothing spectacular, but it sounds good enough to warrant its placement on the album.
8. AIN’T SAYIN’ NOTHIN’ NEW (ft. Dice Raw and Eve of Destruction) – Nope, that’s not a typo. Before Eve starred in “Barbershop”, “Barbershop II” and “Beauty Shop” (REALLY?!) before she won a Grammy for her collabo with Gwen Stefani on “Let Me Blow Your Mind” (remember that shit?!) and before she dominated the airwaves with the BANGER “What Ya Want” back in mid-1999 (Come on! At least, you should remember THAT song), she was known as Eve of Destruction. In-te-res-ting. Well, thank goodness she doesn’t go by that moniker anymore. Anyhoo, on “Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ New (BEST TITLE EVER), she provides backup vocals while Black Thought and Roots collaborator Dice Raw rip the absolute SHIT out of this track! I LOVE the slow guitars on this beat, as well as the jazzy vibe of the song itself, which contrast heavily with the boasts and brags being delivered by Black Thought and Dice Raw. Great track overall!
9. DOUBLE TROUBLE (ft. Mos Def) – Black Thought joins forces with Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) – who had achieved popularity with his Talib Kweli (who was originally slated to do a third verse on the song) collabo album “Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star” and would achieve hip hop greatness with his debut album “Black on Both Sides” (ALBUM REVIEW COMING SOON 😀 :D) released in October 1999 – on a FANTASTIC tribute to Rodney Cee & KK Rockwell a.k.a. Double Trouble, well-known for their iconic raps on the equally-iconic 1983 hip hop movie “Wild Style”. The 1980s-like drumbeat, the serene keyboards and xylophone (yes, there’s a XYLOPHONE on this instrumental) sounds fucking SOLID!! The back-and-forth between the two rappers are riveting and entertaining from start to finish. Mos Def even finishes the track with a re-working of Double Trouble’s iconic rap from “Wild Style” (“Here’s a little story that must be told / About two young brothers who got so much soul”), and a reference to both Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” and Run DMC’s “King of Rock”. A tribute to b-boying and golden-age hip hop, “Double Trouble” is, by far, one of the best tracks on the entire album, and one of my favourite songs from The Roots.
10. ACT TOO (LOVE OF MY LIFE) (ft. Common) – After some finger snapping, lovely vocalizing and quirky keyboard chords segue into an airy, neo-soul beat, Black Thought begins to express his passion and love for hip hop. When the legendary Chicago MC Common steps to the mic, the song becomes a sequel of sorts to his 1994 masterpiece “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, which, if you’re unaware, vividly describes the relationship between Common and a girl – who just so happens to be a metaphor for (SPOILER ALERT) hip-hop. In his verse, he mentions the ups-and-downs he had in his “relationship” with “H.E.R.”, like the beef between him and Westside Connection (of which Ice Cube was a member) that started off from a misinterpreted line from “I Used To Love H.E.R.”). Yet he still has nothing but love for hip hop music. The musical breakdown following Common’s verse is incredibly moving, especially the lush violins used in this section. Though it’s not my favourite ode to hip-hop by a longshot, it is still an affectionate and heartfelt love letter to my all-time favourite musical genre.
11. 100% DUNDEE -Human beatbox Rahzel provides the vocal spine for this instrumental, which kicks fucking ass!! Seriously! Black Thought and Malik B slice, dice and throw the remains of this beat into a frying pan with some of the best lyrical wordplay I’ve ever heard from both MCs. I’m still not sure why the title needed to reference “Crocodile Dundee”, but it sounds really decent when it’s rapped on the chorus. In any case, this song freaking KNOCKS! One of my favourites on the album for sure!
12. DIEDRE VS. DICE (ft. Dice Raw) – OK, this is the second time a guy’s rapping is faded out just when it started to get interesting! That’s two strikes, “Things Fall Apart”. THREE strikes and you’re out of this game!
13. ADRENALINE! (ft. Dice Raw & Beanie Sigel) – Also known as the first appearance of Philly’s own Beanie Sigel before he got signed to Roc-a-Fella Records. The beat, co-produced by Roots member Scott Storch, has a slight commercial sound to it with its classical-like piano and mid-tempo drumbeat, but it sounds really, really good under Black Thought, Malik B, Dice Raw and Beanie Sigel’s hard, battle raps. As a single, it’s not as popular as, say, “The Next Movement” or “You Got Me” (which is coming right after the following interlude, for you impatient listeners out there), but it still holds up today. Surprisingly!
14. 3RD ACTS: ? VS. SCRATCH 2… ELECTRIC BOOGALOO – Rahzel beat-boxes his ass off in this “Paul Revere”-inspired interlude. The short running time on the track prevents him from pushing his luck, which is a good thing.
15. YOU GOT ME (ft. Erykah Badu & Eve of Destru….ah hell, let’s just call her Eve) – The perfect marriage of jazz rap and neo-soul. The hook by R&B innovator Erykah Badu (who replaced the original writer of the hook – Philly-born Jill Scott – as she was more well-known at that time) was, to me, unique at the time of the song’s release, with its opening sentence stretched out over three and a half of the hook’s four lines (“If you were worried ’bout where / I been or who I saw or / What club I went to with my homies,”/ Baby, don’t worry — you know that you got me”). Thanks to Erykah’s inclusion on the track, “You Got Me” was an instant smash, and helped earn The Roots a Grammy win for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 2000. The song deals with Black Thought’s doubts whether his girl (played by Eve in the second verse) will stay true to him (even when he’s recording music, doing shows or traveling across the world – believe me, it sounds a lot more poetic than how I just described it) or let go due to their constant physical separation. Though Eve assures him that she’ll always stay true to him, Tariq still remains doubtful and skeptical about the relationship he’s in. Can’t we all relate to this, folks? Anyway, the music sounds great, the lyrics sound great, the drum-and-bass section in the outro is FANTASTIC, and the chorus – ah, the chorus – still resonates with me up to this day. It’s not one of my all-time favourite Roots tracks (I would put it somewhere in my Top 10 list though), but it’s still one that I truly, TRULY appreciate.
16. DON’T SEE US (ft. Dice Raw) – Black Thought, Malik B and Dice Raw swim up and down this groovy beat, with its shadowy bassline, neo-soul-esque keyboard and jazzy guitars. This beat, unfortunately, stands out way more than the lyrics, which are more braggadocious shots fired at “fake MCs”. Well, at least the chorus stands out. A sure-fire sign that the album is about to wind down.
17. THE RETURN TO INNOCENCE LOST (performed by Ursula Rucker) / ACT FORE (THE END?) (Hidden Track)
This track begins with a 5 1/2 minute spoken-word piece by Ursula Rucker, whose gritty, brutally realistic and thoughtful pieces concluded the tracklists of both “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” and “Illadelph Halflife”. After a haunting jack-in-the-box handle sound effect (slowed down and distorted to give it a “broken” sound to it), Ursula delivers a grim tale of the cycle of violence that begins at the home of a woman physically abused by her baby father, and ends on the street where her son (already caught up in the temptation of crime and easy money) dies violently. A tough listen, “The Return to Innocence Lost” is Ursula’s most impactful, most heartbreaking and most unforgettable contribution to The Roots’ musical library to date. And I guarantee that when the emotionally payoff is revealed, and the jack-in-the-box sound effect comes back on, you’ll be left speechless – or in tears, if you’re the type who cries easily.
And speaking of silence, you’re given about a minute and a half of silence before an unlisted bonus track (entitled “Out There”) – begins. This is a first in the Roots discography thus far, where their last two albums ended with a vocal outro. The beat isn’t the greatest in the world (I did like the three-key cell-phone sound effect that permeates on the instrumental) but Black Thought does a great job of lightening the mood from Ursula’s depressing spoken-work piece and giving the album the proper sendoff it deserves.
And then we get five seconds of dead space (which makes up “Act Fore (The End?)”) before the album ends.
MY THOUGHTS: I’ll make it short and sweet. “The Slim Shady LP” and “Things Fall Apart”, different as they are in terms of style, sound and lyrical content, are great albums in their own right. Each album comes with its fair share of flaws, which become more and more apparent with each listen, but fortunately, these flaws don’t affect the album’s overall quality. If you’re an Eminem fan, you NEED to have “The Slim Shady LP” in your collection. If you’re a Roots fan, you NEED to have “Things Fall Apart” and “Illadelph Halflife” (which is still the BEST Roots album, in my honest opinion) and “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” in your collection. If you’re a fan of one of these albums, and you never bothered to listen to the other, I definitely recommend you check the other one out. If you never listened to any of these albums, check them out! And listen to them all the way. You won’t regret it. Trust me on this!
And now, as a token of my appreciation for reading through this post in its entirety, I present to you Eminem’s 2003 Grammy Award performance of “Lose Yourself”, backed by The Roots. Enjoy!
“The Slim Shady LP” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely listen to this album”)
“Things Fall Apart” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely listen to this album”)