Malik B., Founding Member Of The Roots, Dead At 47: ‘One Of The Most Gifted MCs Of All Time’

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Written by Ann Brown
Malik
Malik B., a founding member of the breakthrough hip-hop band The Roots, is dead a 47: “One of the most gifted MCs of all time.” Photo: @MPOZITOLBERTPHOTOGRAPHY

Malik Abdul Baset, an early member of the unconventional hip-hop band The Roots, has died. Known as Malik B., he was 47.

Although his death on July 29 was confirmed by The Roots’ Questlove and Black Thought in a statement, no cause of death was provided. 

“It is with heavy hearts and tearful eyes that we regretfully inform you of the passing of our beloved brother and long time Roots member Malik Abdul Baset,” the statement reads. “May he be remembered for his devotion to Islam, His loving brotherhood and His innovation as one of the most gifted MCs of all time.”

It was in the early ’90s when Malik B. met Roots co-founders Ahmir Thompson and Tariq Trotter — better known as Questlove and Black Thought, respectively — while attending Philadelphia’s Millersville University. They formed The Roots. In 1993, the group self-released its debut album, “Organix,” NPR reported. Their reputation grew through live performances and touring.

Their second album, “Do You Want More?!!!??!” received major label support in 1995. “Illadelph Halflife,” released in 1996, pushed them into the mainstream. 

“If they had previously been seen as a talented, live-instrumented detour from more popular forms of rap, the focus and distillation of vision revealed on ‘Illadelph’ made hip-hop’s center move, slowly at first, towards The Roots,” NPR reported.

Malik B. departed The Roots following the release of the album “Things Fall Apart.” That album became a hip-hop classic. A single from that album — “You Got Me,” featuring Erykah Badu — earned The Roots a Grammy Award and sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. 

The reasons behind Malik B’s departure during the recording of the  “Phrenology” album was never really discussed. Black Thought did allude to Malik’s departure on the “Phrenology” song “Water,” Pitchfork reported. The song is about addiction and friendship. 

In a 2015 interview, Malik said he wasn’t fired from the Roots and that he didn’t quit the band either. That same year, he released a collaborative album with producer Mr. Green called “Unpredictable.”

Condolences came from fans, other hip-hop artists and politicians including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who replied to The Roots announcement of Malik’s death by tweeting, “Wear a mask,” accompanied by a photo of her wearing a mask.

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On his Instagram account, bandmate Black Thought wrote, “We made a name and carved a lane together where there was none. In friendly competition with you from day one, I always felt as if I possessed only a mere fraction of your true gift and potential.”

Black Thought concluded, “I always wanted to change you, to somehow sophisticate your outlook and make you see that there were far more options than the streets, only to realize that you and the streets were one… and there was no way to separate a man from his true self. My beloved brother M-illitant. I can only hope to have made you as proud as you made me. The world just lost a real one. May Allah pardon you, forgive your sins and grant you the highest level of paradise.”

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