Time Span Between First Five Albums: Nine Years
The Roots have rightly earned the title as hip-hop’s best live band, but that celebrated fact shouldn’t overshadow the work they’ve done in the studio. In the nearly two decades since first releasing their debut, the Philadelphia collective has put out ten albums. Their first five, each in their own ways, set the groundwork for the crew’s impending acceptance on a larger musical scale (they've slow jammed the news with Barack Obama, for goodness sake). With sharp lyrics from both Black Thought and Malik B., The Roots offered sonic innovation, incorporating elements of hip-hop, rock, jazz, neo-soul and more.
_________________________With apologies to De La Soul, five is the magic number. It’s usually the amount of albums in a standard record deal, but few MCs ever fulfill their contractual obligations with as much aplomb as they started. Whether an artist peaks early or late, staying consistent over the duration of five albums has proven challenging no matter the era in hip-hop. XXLmag.com decided to rank the best first-five album runs in hip-hop history (First 5). A new act and their ranking will be revealed each day of the week throughout the month of October and the Top 5 will be revealed on November 5th. Get in on the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #XXLFirst5.
1. Do You Want More (1995)
Release Date: January 17, 1995
The Roots answered their own question and gave fans more with their major label debut, which arrived two years after their indie album. The effort reached No. 2 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart, and included the single “Proceed,” which peaked at No. 13 on the Hot Rap Singles chart. Black Thought and Malik B provided the majority of the vocals, though Dice Raw and a number of jazz musicians were also brought on board at points. Another of the sophomore set’s memorable moments came in the middle, on “? Vs. Rahzel,” where the freakishly talented beat-boxing of Rahzel and percussion of ?uestlove met as one.
2. Illadelph Halflife (1996)
Release Date: September 24, 1996
The crew continued to build momentum and earn mainstream recognition with their third album, Illadelph Halflife. The 20-track project brought established names into the fold for brief appearances, and many proved to form lasting bonds with the group, as Common, Q-Tip, D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq all entered the fold. The album received glowing reviews from critics, and also represented The Roots’ biggest commercial achievement to date, peaking at No. 4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart on Billboard and No. 21 on the 200. IH also spawned successful singles, with “What They Do” and “Clones/Section” reaching No. 5 and No. 11, respectively, on the Hot Rap Singles chart.
3. Things Fall Apart (1999)
Release Date:February 23, 1999
The Roots reached brand new heights with their fourth album, released two and a half years after their previous project. The essential effort launched to No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 for the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, while including memorable singles like “You Got Me” and “Adrenaline.” In addition to the reemergence of Common and Dice Raw, who had left marks on previous projects, the Philly collective also collaborated with J Dilla, Erykah Badu, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mos Def, Eve and Beanie Sigel. Sonically, the gold-certified album flowed together seamlessly, and from a lyrical standpoint, Black Thought’s pen remained sharp as he thrust himself into discussions of the eternally underrated.
4. Phrenology (2002)
Release Date: November 26, 2002
It took three and a half years for The Roots to follow up their fourth album with Phrenology, and it showed, at least on the commercial side, by not charting quite as well. Though the disc ultimately reached gold certification, like its predecessor, it peaked at No. 28 on the Billboard 200—a far cry from the top five positioning of Things Fall Apart. The funk-rock single “The Seed 2.0” gained some momentum and became a favorite, but wasn’t particularly successful chart-wise. Guests on the project included Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Nelly Furtado, Musiq Soulchild and Cody ChestnuTT.
5. Tipping Point (2004)
Release Date: July 13, 2004
To follow up their celebrated Phrenology release, The Roots returned two years later with The Tipping Point. The album continued their legacy of musical soul and eclectic instrumentation, exemplified on tracks like the lengthy outro, “Din Da Da,” while Devin The Dude and Jean Grae joined the fold for “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” The release hit No. 4 on the Billboard 200, and the single “Don’t Say Nuthin’” climbed to No. 66 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.