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On 'Things Fall Apart,' The Roots Deepened Hip-Hop

The Roots

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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On 'Things Fall Apart,' The Roots Deepened Hip-Hop

'Things Fall Apart' is not the Roots' masterpiece, but rather the beginning of them making masterpieces

GRAMMYs/Mar 5, 2019 - 12:21 am

We joke about it — there's that "J. Cole went platinum with no features" meme—but some of rap's overachievers end up doing just that. The Roots were perhaps one of the first acts in hip-hop history where maybe it wasn't immediately clear what the song was about. And while rap had always been built on borrowing and homage and one-upping, all sorts of open-source tools and watching a chant or catchphrase evolve into something else in real time, the Philadelphia group felt like its first meta commentators, deconstructing the medium as a whole and its tropes within their work itself. Lord knows they didn’t condescend to their peers (which matters when your lead vocalist is named Black Thought), though they occasionally indulged their bratty side (see the 1996 "rap video manual" "What They Do").

But just by existing, the Roots are often viewed as a fount of respectability politics: "They're rappers who play real instruments!" you’ve surely overheard one exasperated white rock fan say to another. Actually, let's zoom out entirely. How they're really viewed in 2019 is as Jimmy Fallon's house band and their elastic ability to perform on any guest's song, no matter the genre, possibly diminishes their artistic identity rather than augmenting it. Despite the fact the Roots tie Jay-Z as rap’s most consistent album artists for 20 years now, they’re rarely part of The Conversation.

You could say people so take the Roots' greatness for granted that whatever amazing thing they're currently saying or doing exists in a different universe than the one engaging luminaries from Drake to Nicki Minaj to Future to Juice WRLD. Or you could say they aren’t considered great at all. Black Thought is often referred to as an "MC's MC," which by definition means he’s undervalued by the audience. No one doubts Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is a world-class drummer, but he's treated more as the Dave Grohl of rap, a genial everydude who’s friends with everybody and checks in with a predictable new album every few years. Sure, but only if greatness in itself is boringly predictable.

Things Fall Apart, which just turned 20, is rightfully celebrated as a groundbreaking collection of music; it courted real sales, and had a real hit. "You Got Me," a Jill Scott co-write that Erykah Badu's hook curled around like smoke, won a real GRAMMY in 1999. And 2002's expansive, almost psychedelically varied follow-up, Phrenology, continued the hit streak with "The Seed 2.0," though it was a larger staple of alt-rock stations' playlists than rap ones. And then quietly, respectfully, their next six studio albums were damned with strong reviews and consistent sales in the five-to-six digits without threatening radio or year-end lists ever again. This was particularly unjust for the incredible hot streak of Game Theory, Rising Down, and How I Got Over from 2006 to 2010, but the quality of The Tipping Point, undun, and …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is also taken for granted.

Things Fall Apart is not the Roots' masterpiece, but rather the beginning of them making masterpieces. Its unforgettable cover art aside, with two terrified black people fleeing white police on foot, most of the album's depth is musical. Before Genius existed, Questlove was happy to fill the Roots' CD booklets with footnotes to help any listener place the cymbal-heavy opener "Table of Contents (Parts 1 & 2)" as a tribute to the "sloppy tambourine" of Marley Marl and "horrible mixing" of the Jungle Brothers. The drums on "Step Into the Realm" keep fading out as an homage to the breaks our heroes had to loop as kids from the ends of other songs where the only isolated drum sounds they could grab would fade out. The backing track of "Without a Doubt" is built entirely from a sample of their fellow hometown hero Schoolly-D.

Old-school rap was the foundation of Things Fall Apart, down to the back-and-forth mic-trading between Black Thought and Mos Def on "Double Trouble." But the hyper-time drum-and-bass that Questlove lays under the final chorus of "You Got Me," J Dilla's creaky deep-crate jazz on "Dynamite!" and the Jazzyfatnastees' hocketing vocals on "The Next Movement" were all expanding the sonic palates of millennial rap fans. The group embraced their progressivism visually, too, building on the subversive "What They Do" with two more Charles Stone III-directed videos: "You Got Me" remixed Radiohead's infamously open-ended "Just" clip, while the mini visual marvels of “The Next Movement,” rival anything Spike Jonze directed in the '90s.

The album cover and title of the Roots' third album were perhaps better suited to their darker later work, which became crucially political, but at least it established an urgency for the group, one they deserve to get back. Because the true theme song of Things Fall Apart is the centerpiece "Act Too (The Love of My Life)," whose titular inamorata is hip-hop itself, and that song's own music sounded like a successor to "The Cosby Show" theme, which at one time was another example of Philly pride. Making an album about how much you love what you do doesn’t sound like a radical concept, necessarily. But it’s an uplifting one, and when it busts open the doors that permit you to do so much more of it, well, that’s the beginning of a revolution, no?

On September 27, Things Fall Apart will be reissued in a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition in different formats. The standard 3xLP gatefold edition with a new full disc of bonus tracks and a 24-page booklet featuring rare photos and new essays from Black Thought and Questlove (along with new liner notes from Questlove), as well as a Collector's Edition on clear vinyl with a die-cut slipcase.

Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

Seattle's Museum Of Pop Culture To Host Pearl Jam Exhibit

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

2019 Music Festival Preview: Noise Pop, Coachella, Ultra & More

Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.