As a superfan of the hip-hop group The Roots, I will always contend that “Water,” a raw and vulnerable tale of addiction and friendship. is the best song they ever made, and—along with Kendrick Lamar’s “Duckworth”—one of the greatest examples of hip-hop storytelling ever.
Malik B., the talented rapper, longtime member of The Roots, and subject of that song, is dead at 47 years old, according to a tweet from the legendary group on Wednesday.
“We made a name and carved a lane together where there was none,” fellow member and fellow emcee Black Thought wrote on his Instagram account. “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.”
The cause of death was not revealed.
Black Thought continued:
“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.”
While attending Millersville University, Malik Abdul Basit became friends with emcee Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who had already formed the hip-hop group Square Roots during their high school years at the Philadelphia School for the Performing Arts. Basit joined the squad as “Malik B.” before the group changed its name to The Roots. The group released its independent album Organix in 1993.
On 1995’s Do You Want More?!!!??!, Malik B. and Black Thought shared emcee duties, making The Root’s label debut a major success. Basit left the group in 1999 but appeared in three songs on the 2006 album Game Theory as well as two songs on Rising Down in 2008. A follower of Islam, Basit was one of the few performers in all of rap music who could hold his own with Black Thought in a freestyle cypher.
As Black Thought wrote:
To my ghetto legend, known from Lil’ shyst running
who copped codeine by the courts and keep comin’
Dummy, just embracing the dope like it’s a woman
You burnin’ both sides of the rope and keep pulling, tugging
in between Islam and straight thugging,
Laying every day around the way, doin’ nothing.
I see them looking, shaking their head and start shruggin’
If they don’t have a man like mine, they got a cousin
Hey yo, you better be a true friend to ‘em
Before the shit put an end to ‘em
Or give a pen to ‘em
Or lock’em up in the studio with a mic
‘Cause on the real it might save his life.