On this day, Feb. 23, in hip-hop history…

1999: Fusing visceral political commentary, sinuous wit, and infectious rhymes, The Roots’ subversive fourth record Things Fall Apart marked a significant keystone in the underground 90s Hip Hop movement. The album, rife with social critiques beneath the surface, ignited immense commercial interest in the Hip Hop collective - the first of which they had ever received. Hip Hop OGs and trailblazers, including Mos Def, Common and Erykah Badu, were featured on the record.

Following the inescapable hype surrounding this record, the group won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the track “You Got Me”, and years after its release, the album went platinum. The record reached as high as No. 4 on the Billboard album charts, meanwhile being lauded by some critics as the greatest rap album of all time. The success of the record was refreshing to many, as the late-90s' charts were pervaded by self-aggrandizing rap acts, with no focus on the traditional and underground stylistics.

The record really was more than just a beat and rhyme. The sensation of Things Fall Apart, given its thematic focus, ignited controversy - symbolizing a revolution for hip hop and the African American equality movement which was still a lingering political issue in the late 1990s. Highlighting sensitive issues including the 60s Civil Rights movement and the destructive nature of colonialism framed in a period of cultural unrest, made the group’s recognition all the more deserved. These annotations were disguised in the form of slick street poetry, fluid and jazzy instrumentals topped with infectious layered chants. And ironically, Things Fall Apart is the antithesis of “disposable” hip hop- a concept that is critiqued in the Spike Lee sampled track “Act Won”.  The record leaves a legacy as an integral piece of rap history, enabling the longevity of a plethora of hip-hop careers. -Ava Nirui


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