What’s up folks. We’re continuing on with the anniversary salutes to some of Hip Hop’s all-time best gems that turn twenty this year. I’ve covered some groundbreaking albums that have been felt in the industry since their release. This is the latest album that meets the criteria of influence and artistic mastery. Illadelph Halflife is another album that laid the groundwork for future brilliance from Hip Hop’s greatest band.
We were first commercially introduced to Philly’s finest, The Roots, in ’94 with their breakthrough album, Do You Want More?!?!?!, which spawned the excellent singles “Proceed” and “Distortion To Static”. We were being introduced to a Hip Hop band the likes of which we had never seen before. We remember Stetsasonic and their superb contributions to the game, but The Roots were on a different platform. The core members were this fantastic lyricist that ended up becoming perhaps the most underrated emcee in all the game to this day, Black Thought, and the HUGE afro’d dude with an often spaced-out, blank stare named ?uest (pronounced ‘qwest’) Love – along with a bassist, keyboardist, guitarist, and other musicians, not to mention a sick beatboxer named Rahzel – and we had magic. Their debut was an impressive album to show the world who they were and they did a great job in doing so. The live instrumentation was something we didn’t get a lot of during that time, save for acts like Tribe and Digable Planets. All the tracks were very fluid and unique. We fell for them and started to pay attention.
When we got exposed to the first single and video “Concerto Of The Desperado”, we got a dramatic track with haunting wailing vocals from Amel Larrieux, but what stood out was the sweetness Thought provided on that mic. His breath control is the stuff of legend to this day, and we saw it on this album and this track especially. We saw the official birth of the emcee Black Thought in our vision. In fact, this may have been his coming out party as our next lyrical wunderkind.
They followed with “Clones” and the silky smooth dis to superficial, commercial, Moet-sipping cats “What They Do”, which both provided organic production that truthfully we haven’t seen as much of until later releases like How I Got Over, Game Theory, and Undun. Although they went slightly left of center by not going more towards a jazz element like on Do You Want More, they made up for it with equally stellar production on every single track. That’s not to say they didn’t bring jazz into the picture with amazing cuts like the ravishing “One Shine” featuring the lush vocals of Cassandra Wilson and the trumpeting skills of Joshua Redman and the delightful “Adventures In Wonderland”.
There have been people that have compared this album and their subsequent follow-up Things Fall Apart to Tribe’s The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders respectively. The comparison is very legit, as the both groups are game changers that showed brilliance and exquisite artistic merit. This album became the group’s blueprint in how to construct a formidable listening experience. Much like the late Phife Dawg arrived on The Low End Theory, Thought arrived on this one and showed he came to play with the other emcees in the playground. It took a few years before we saw Black, ?uest, and the boys reach the type of rich, organic execution of musicianship and conceptual hunger they reached on Illadelph Halflife. What they couldn’t totally find with Organix or Do You Want More, they more than discovered with this one, and are now (arguably besides Tribe) the most important Hip Hop group of all-time.