July 4, 2008

The Roots - Organix (1993)


I have been putting off this write-up for about as long as HHID has been around. Not because I hate The Roots or anything: far from it. I just recall picking up this album at a Circuit City, after having received the crew's third album illadelph halflife as a Christmas present and snagging Do You Want More?!!!??! with girt certificate money (damn my need to collect things!), and I also remember not really knowing what to expect from what I was hearing. I mean, it sounds like The Roots, but at the same time it doesn't, so it immediately began its second life as a collector of dust particles. I've been wanting to write about The Roots for a long time, and I even did a blog about Roots affiliate Dice Raw at one point, in a feeble attempt to trick myself into getting to the Roots debut, Organix, but that obviously didn't work.

But then I realized that, for those of you that don't follow hip hop all that closely, my Gut Reaction post for Rising Down doesn't really make any sense without knowing that The Roots had released several albums before then. And I decided that my two readers needed to know a bit more about the greatest performing band in hip hop.

Oh, I'm no hero. I'm just doing what I think is right.

Its guitar and bass players may have come and gone, but the two consistent players in the Roots Crew are its founding members, rapper Black Thought and drummer ?uestlove. Black Thought is an old-school confrontational rapper cut from the Big Daddy Kane/Kool G Rap cloth, but modernized for today's audience, and ?uestlove is just a cool fucking musician, known for his in-depth liner notes and uncanny ability to hear a potential rap song in a beat most folks would avoid like the plague. Their original name, the Square Roots, sounded more like what the Math Society would call themselves if they were performing a dance routine at the school talent show, so the name was quickly altered, although their rhymes about the Pythagorean Theorem remain.

Organix is technically the group's debut, but its inception is a bit more unorthodox than most rap albums. After deciding to form as a group and performing a few shows in their Philadelphia hometown, The Roots took off overseas for a series of intimate concerts, and recorded the entirety of Organix while on tour in their spare time. As such, the disc sounds like a series of incomplete thoughts set to music, or the world's most elaborate demo tape. Copies of Organix were pressed and sold at their shows, and a disc found its way into the A&R at DGC Records, home of acts such as Nirvana and Beck, and after a bidding war, they found themselves locked into a record deal and started to record properly. Organix, in contrast, found its way to a no-name label that discovered the disc in the fridge behind the yogurt right after The Roots dropped Do You Want More?!!!??! on the masses, kind of like that guy that owns the Girls Gone Wild franchise that found the Elliot Spitzer call girl in one of his early videos, but a lot less sleazy. Although this is the music industry, so you never know.

Organix is cursed with poor sound, no marketing, and liner notes that happen to suck balls. There are guests on some of the tracks, primarily Roots Crew hangers-on, but none of them are listed in the credits, so I have to warn all two of you that the credits on each song are compiled to the best of my ability.

And here we go.

1. THE ROOTS IS COMIN'
A one-verse intro that, thankfully, isn't self-important.

2. PASS THE POPCORN (FEAT KENYATTA WARREN)
Not bad, if a little sparse (that is, if you're used to the Roots Crew music of today). Interesting if only because ?uestlove actually spits a verse.

3. THE ANTI-CIRCLE
So far, all of these beats sound exactly the same. Black Thought is more aggressive on the mic today (see: "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)"), which is how I prefer to think of him. This track is okay at best.

4. WRITER'S BLOCK
A jazzy interlude that doesn't sound out of place on the album, but does sound out of place in the universe.

5. GOOD MUSIC (PRECLUDE)
Not horrible, but waaay too short. I'm almost one hundred percent sure that it's supposed to be "prelude", but that's how it's spelled on the back of the CD case and in the liner notes, which are horribly misspelled anyway, but this tidbit remained consistent, so there you go.

6. GOOD MUSIC
Has a nice, smoothed-out groove, but I'm not in love with the hook.

7. GRITS
I'm thankful that the Roots Crew decided to add more melody over the drumwork of ?uestlove later in their career, because no matter how entertaining the rhymes are (which, truthfully, they're not so much on this song), the beats suck overall. Even the fact that Malik B appears on this track isn't much of an endorsement.

8. LEONARD I-V
I didn't actually think they were going to incorporate the title into the song itself, but then Black Thought totally did, and I thought it was hilarious. And, surprise, the beat actually recalls their later work. Not bad overall.

9. I'M OUT DEAH
Unlike Gangstarr's first album No More Mr. Nice Guy, where DJ Premier cuts jazz records into a form more palatable for the hip hop audience, The Roots decided that it would be best if it sounded like Black Thought were rhyming with a jazz band backing him. Considering that this is essentially how Organix was recorded in the first place, this song isn't bad, but it's certainly not great.

10. ESSAWHAMAH? (LIVE AT THE SOULSHACK)
I don't care if this particular song was recorded live in Yugoslavia, Black Thought scatting on the mic was something that I never needed to hear. (I meant that in the jazzy sense, not the other way, you dirty birds.)

11. THERE'S A RIOT GOIN ON (PART II - EXTENDED HOUSE, ACID JAZZ, HIP HOP, RADIO FRIENDLY, EDIT, VIDEO MIX)
This is a skit. The title actually takes longer to read out loud than the skit does to play in its entirety.

12. POPCORN REVISITED
Black Thought goes back to the well, this time over a beat that sounds much better than the original, thanks to the underlying bass work provided by Joshua Abrams. He proves to the world consistently throughout Organix that he is someone to watch for, but the musical backing he receives, for the most part, is akin to performing at Starbucks, wearing all black, smoking cloves, and complaining about the barista fucking up your order.

13. PEACE
Spoken word poetry from Black Thought, with musical backing provided by a human beatbox.

14. COMMON DUST
Meh.

15. THE SESSION (LONGEST POSSE CUT IN HISTORY, 12:43) (FEAT A.J. SHINE, BO-WATT, LORD AKIL, ME MYSELF AND I, MR. MANIFEST, PAZI PLANT, & SHORTY NO MAS)
Hopefully that list of guests is correct, since the liner notes only list their real names. The record of twelve minutes and forty-three seconds has since been broken multiple times since 1993, but "The Session" may break the record for the longest posse cut in history where every single artist contributing was in the same fucking room when the song was recorded. At least it has that going for it, since it certainly isn't the best posse cut in history, that's for sure.

16. SYREETA'S HAVING MY BABY
An instrumental interlude, not bad for what it is.

17. CARRYIN' ON
This is really just an outro to the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Organix is a mixed bag, with the needle pointing in the direction of "meh" more often than not. Black Thought is one of my favorite rappers still currently working, and as a musician in hip hop, ?uestlove is unsurpassed, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? This sounds like they only had four hours to spend in the studio (which is probably true), so they recorded everything they had written up to that point, which wasn't very diverse in its subject matter, but it was decent enough to secure a record deal with DGC, so at least their A&R was on top of his game that day.

BUY OR BURN? Burn it. This album is a curiosity piece for Roots fans only, as everyone else out there won't be interested enough to check this out. I realize that I've just written about two Roots albums where my overall opinion was "pass", but I don't care: this disc ain't that good, folks.

BEST TRACKS: "Popcorn Revisited"; "Leonard I-V"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
The Roots - Rising Down (My Gut Reaction post)

8 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 04, 2008

    Buy It, fuck Max

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  2. Phil Watts, Jr.July 04, 2008

    This is pretty much their JUVENILE HELL--that forgetable first effort that people pass over to get to the second one. Not even a lot of Roots fans rate it that high.

    Come to think of it, not even the Roots themselves rate it that high. (?uestlove really really HATES hearing himself rap. After "You Ain't Fly", he decided to just quit rapping and has never picked up the mic since.)

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  3. This album always takes me back to the early 90's when I would see Quest, Hub and Black Thought performing in front of an empty lot on 5th & South Street, I think. I could see early on that Thought loved performing in front of crowds and there's no weirder mix of people than on South Street.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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  4. awww i thought this album was really good, oh well im off to buy Illadelph Halflife

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  5. lick my nuts one of the best albums i have ever heard

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  6. This album was really made to emphasize the MCing of Black Thought. This man was on point with this album and has gotten better with time. Black Thought is the greatest MC ever

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  7. As an album at the time you can't it never changed your perception of where rap was different and where it could go, on reflection it's another topic, but when you picked up that black piece of obscure vinyl and brought it home you were like what the fudge is this.
    freestyle fellowship - inner city griots had the same appeal.

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  8. Are you going to tell me Urban Thermo Dynamics sucks too now because it doesn't hold up to Mos Def's later work? Sometimes you have to listen with cultural, social and temporal context in mind. Is this the Roots best album? No. Is it an album worth owning as a hip hop fan? Yes.

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