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John Legend & The Roots Perform for Rolling Stones' Playlist Event

If the hip hop world's tumultuous climate has taught its fans and inhabitants anything, it's that there are very few safe bets in rap music. But while fashion trends, dance crazes and groups old and new each arrive and depart with the relative quickness, The Roots continue to infectiously groove to the beat of a vastly different drummer. With their fourth album, things fall apart, the Philadelphia-based musicians, emcees and vocal manipulators steadfastly resume their statesmen-like role as hip hop's most consistently innovative outfits.
"As we approach the millennium, there are a lot of things in the world that are about to drastically change," explains lead emcee Black Thought (a/k/a Tariq Trotter) of the album's title. "So, things fall apart is dealing with that change. And that could be taken a lot of different ways. It could be taken that this record is gonna change the state of music forever... all kinds of shit could be jumping off." "We just wanted to make a basic statement on the overall scope of life. On every aspect of our lives from internally to just what we observe," assesses drummer/bandleader ?uestlove (a/k/a Ahmir Thompson).

Observing the musical maturation of Black Thought and ?uestlove (who originally met while attending Philadelphia's High School For The Performing Arts) as well as their compatriots-emcee Malik B., keyboardist Kamal, bassist Leonard Hubbard and inhuman beat box extraordinaire Rahzel "The Godfather Of Noyze" has been a joyful process for fans of the group's previously acclaimed alchemist of lyrical wizardry, live instrumentation and recording studio savvy, 1993's Organix, 1994's Do You Want More?!!!??! and 1996's illadelph halflife. While renowned early Roots repertoire like "Proceed" and "Silent Treatment" represented one early peak, illadelph's excursions into sampling served as a springboard for things' added technical experimentation. Both Black Though and ?uest see their latest endeavor as an opportunity to re-discover the pleasures of undiluted creativity.

"This record represents the re-invention of the wheel, so to speak," Black Thought says enthusiastically. "It's The Roots again, but fresh and new. I get the feeling with this record that I did with Organix, in that it's a free record. We did whatever we wanted to do." "This time it's everything but the kitchen sink," ?uest states with both mischief and pride. :At least with my contributions, I did a lot of things sonically that I haven't done before. You can over-accessorize something musically. But at the end you just have to make it sound good."

Musically, things fall apart's invention is represented by a diverse palette of compositional flavors. Featuring five different (and disturbing) album covers, the first cut is actually #54 (denoting the 54th recorded song in the groups career). On the sterling "The Next Movement", subtle keyboard stabs, oral turntable manipulations by guest vocal percussionist Scratch and a classical music tinged chorale by Jazzfatnastees converge to support Black Thought thoughts such as, "The Roots-royal highnesses inside your monitors." The tension-filled "100% Dundee" unites Rahzel's verbal beatbox gymnastics with an eerie ascending melody for a recreation of a pastime jam the group favored for soundchecks. (Ghost track) "I'm Out Deah" serves as a chaotic sequel to the original composition of the same name from Organix and tosses phone rings, scratches and drums recorded at alternate speeds into the sonic blender. And on the album's adrenaline-inducing three-part intro, "Act One (Things Fall Apart)/Table Of Contents," The Roots cook up their own spicy b-boy bouillabaisse of aural vignettes as fly as the threads in Paul's oranyone else's boutique.

Hip hop traditionalist fear not, however. Despite the increased studio sophistication, things fall apart is as fundamentally grounded in rap tradition as the band's much-revered "Hip Hop 101" concert routine. Co-produced by Jay-Dee of A Tribe