Malik B., former The Roots member known for his pugnacious rap style, has died. He was 47. The cause or time of death has not been confirmed.
Malik B.’s cousin Don Champion, who is a former CBS News Correspondent, confirmed the news on Twitter. He wrote: “Mourning my beloved cousin today. He was so talented and had a huge heart. I still remember when he and The Roots were starting out. He’d give me and my dad their cassette tapes to listen to.”
Malik B., born Malik Abdul Basit, was an early member of The Roots, alongside Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. He appeared on the first four albums, and he was the perfect fit; both Thought and Malik utilized a rapid-fire, relentless rap style. While it was always clear that Black Thought was the lead MC in the group, Malik B. found moments to shine, like “Distortion To Static” from Do You Want More?!!!??! or on Illadelph Halflife standout “Clones.”
Malik would split with the group after Things Fall Apart in 1999. There were whispers that drugs were an issue. On The Roots 2002 album Phrenology, the first album without Malik, Black Thought dedicated the song “Water” to his former rhyme partner. On the track, which is one of The Roots’ most experimental, Thought details the story of how the two came up and how drugs eventually ruined the relationship.
“Yo, I’m headed back to Philly
Nigga you rollin’ with me? I’m trying to get busy
We walked dogs that was off the chain
Lot of times, at the shows, people hardly came
I just took it in stride as part of the game
But inside people down with me started to change
It was a couple things, lil’ syrup, lil’ pills
Instead of riding out on the road you’d rather chill
I know the way a pleasure feel, I’m not judging
But still I’m on a mission, yo, I’m not buggin’
I got fam that can’t stop druggin’, they can’t sleep
They can’t stick to one subject, they can’t eat
It’s people steady comin’ at me out in the street
Like ‘Riq, yo, what up with your peeps? It gets deep, nigga”
Malik B. would return to the group by 2006, appearing on three tracks off of Game Theory and then on 2008’s Rising Down. Although his collaborations with The Roots were less frequent over the years he never stopped working.
He has released an EP and two albums since 2006. His last album was 2015’s Unpredictable, which was with producer Mr. Green.
Last year, he appeared on “Young Love” with The Last Poets.
After the news started circulating, The Roots put out a statement On their Instagram, writing, “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. We ask that you please respect his family and extended family in our time of mourning such a great loss.”
Black Thought also put out his own statement. He wrote, “Your steel sharpened my steel as I watched you create cadences from the ether and set them free into the universe to become poetic law, making the English language your bitch. 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.”
Questlove took to Instagram to share a lighter story about Malik’s influence on his arsenal of fragrances.
Members of the hip-hop community have been in mourning since the news came out. From Mr. Green to J. Live to underground MC Reef the Lost Cause have written loving messages about Malik.
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