As news flowed through Philly about the passing of rapper Malik B., people shared memories of this pivotal co-founder of The Roots. He was the Legendary Roots Crew member you would most likely run into almost anywhere in the city, but most especially in his home base of South Philly.
His death at age 47 was confirmed by The Roots’ Questlove and Black Thought in a statement Wednesday, but 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.”
He appeared on the first four albums released by The Roots, before departing the group in the early 2000s. Black Thought mentioned Malik B.’s split from the group in Phrenology’s “Water (The First Movement)”:
“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’“
However, once a Root, you’re always a Root, so Malik B. returned as a featured artist on The Roots’ seventh studio album, Game Theory, prompting a “Welcome Home” in the group’s liner notes. Malik B was also featured on two of the tracks on The Roots’ 2008 album Rising Down, “I Can’t Help It” and “Lost Desire.”
Apart from The Roots, Malik B maintained his creative creed and released one EP, entitled Psychological, and two studio albums, Street Assault (2005) and Unpredictable (2015).
He was as complicated, as gritty, as sage, and as authentic as the city he wrapped his lyrics around. Beyond the struggle he had with industry success back in the 90s, I witnessed a true verbal assassin maintain his own in countless late-night ciphers where Black Thought slayed wannabe MCs, then passed the mic for Malik B. to eviscerate ’em for good.
An example of the stellar wordplay and relationship the lyricists shared is evidenced on “Mellow My Man” and “100% Dundee” where Thought spits: “People want to know where Malik? He right next to me: The weaponry, the secret recipe.”
There’s a haunting quality to Malik B’s solo outings with The Roots that bear a well-honed street perspective and philosophy that both warned and advised. Throughout his lyrics, the rapper reflects on his journey telling listeners to “Remember, I’m no great pretender.”
So today, we pour libations for the Fifth Dynasty’s Malik B, the genuine Square Roots’ talent who stayed as real as the streets of Illadelphia he repped.
Malik B’s Best with The Roots